A recently published report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) states ʺIn 2020, we estimate substance use (SU) cost people in Canada more than $49 billion and led to the loss of over 200 lives every dayʺ.  Between healthcare costs, loss of productivity, changing consumption patterns and increasingly toxic illicit and unregulated drugs, the report details the heavy human and financial toll of substance use.


What types of costs are associated with substance use?

The costs associated with substance use take into account all the negative impacts of alcohol, tobacco and drug use in Canada. The CCSA report provides an update of these costs for 2020. They are divided into four main categories:

  • Healthcare costs (includes hospitalization, emergency department services, paramedic services, specialized treatments for substance dependencies, physicians’ remuneration and prescription drugs);
  • Loss of productivity costs (due to premature death, disability and work absenteeism);
  • Justice system costs (police interventions, court procedures and correctional services);
  • Other direct costs (includes funding for research programs, prevention, as well as fire and motor vehicle damages attributable to substance use).

According to the most recent data, the overall cost of substance use stands at over $49 million in 2020.  Loss of productivity accounts for almost half of substance-related costs ($22.4 billion annually, or 45.6%). Healthcare accounts for the second highest costs to Canadian taxpayers ($13.4 billion annually, or 27.3%).

These numbers highlight the enormous impact of substance use in Canada and its costs to Canadian taxpayers.  To illustrate this point, consider that the total cost of substance use would represent 11% of Québec’s annual GDP.


Costs associated with the use of different substances

According to the CCSA report, alcohol and tobacco, both of which are widely and very easily available, account for 62% of total substance use costs. Alcohol is increasingly represented in these costs, accounting for 40% of the total amount; between 2007 and 2020, alcohol-related costs increased 21.3%. Over the same period, tobacco-related costs declined by 20%. According to the report, this trend can be attributed to the implementation of public health policies targeting tobacco use over the past two decades. These policies include labelling, tax increases and advertising restrictions.  Alarmingly, where alcohol is concerned, ʺSimilar policies for alcohol do not exist or have remained unchanged for many years.

The most worrisome increase concerns the use of opioids. Between 2007 and 2020, opioid-related costs increased by 66.4%, reaching more than seven billion dollars in 2020. The report indicates that twice as many people died of opioid use in 2020 as did in 2007, an increase that is largely explained by the proliferation of fentanyl and other unregulated synthetic drugs.

These are alarming findings that outline the economic and public health burden associated with substance use in Canada. The absence of clear public health policies and lack of information regarding alcohol and drugs lead to increased substance use. There is room for hope, however, if one considers the progress made regarding tobacco use, especially among young people, who are less inclined to use tobacco. Viewing substance use as a major social issue will allow us to reduce its burden on society as a whole.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign me up for the following newsletters: