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Meth destroying lives with economic toll of billions
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The Rand Corporation, a non-profit research organization, recently completed a study of the economic impact of methamphetamine on the U.S. economy. This study was for the year 2005. I believe the study of a more recent time period was not possible owing to the unavailability of data beyond 2005. The collection of statistical data of all kinds tends to be in arrears by at least one to two years simply because data "harvesting" from a country with some 300 million inhabitants poses an enormous task.

In short, the financial impact of methamphetamine during 2005 ranged from an estimated $16.2 billion to as high as $48.3 billion. The researchers settled with $23.4 billion as their best estimate. The point of the study was to determine the need for prevention and intervention programs in the context of saving money. I suspect an equally important motivator of the study was to find ways to minimize the human suffering aspect of methamphetamine addiction.

The study suggests that the larger economic impact from meth comes in the form of the loss of lives, medical treatments and other factors associated with a lower quality of life. The second largest impact results from costs associated with meth-related criminal apprehensions, the courts, incarceration and thefts perpetrated by addicts to support their habits. The third category of meth-related costs are derived from the production of the drug itself, which generates harmful chemicals and inflicts injuries on those involved in the process, lost productivity and wages factor in, as well as peripheral costs of children affected by parents involved with meth.

From my perspective, the production, distribution and sales of meth truly constitutes criminal conduct warranting substantial sanctions. First-time users are also committing a conscious act which can justify criminal consequences. The addicts, however, constitute an entirely different lot - they are a societal problem requiring medical and psychological intervention. Once addicted, the "choice" to use is less of a choice and instead becomes a life-consuming personal battle that brings the addict down to the most basic, survival mode. Eventually, as the addiction lingers, life itself become a day-to-day existence dominated by the drug. Food and other life's needs like proper housing and health care needs become secondary.

It almost seems crass and insensitive to boil the meth addiction problem to an economic one, but I understand why it has to be so. It is easy to quantify economic impacts and to then formulate policy (re)actions on a purely monetary basis. To measure the "cost" of human suffering, destroyed families and forlorn lives is much more difficult, if not impossible. And, in light of the recent giant spending bills initiated by the federal government, $23.4 billion seems like a pittance in comparison which, when presented to the public as a reason for action, may have little or no impact. $23.4 billion is an enormous amount of money, but when compared to trillion dollar figures, how many people are going to be interested in it? I believe the human impact side of the equation provides the most compelling reasons. If billions of dollars are saved along the way, it would be one more reason to celebrate.