Survey Says States Spend 13 Percent of Their Budgets on Substance Abuse

Between 1997 and 1999, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, New York, conducted an analysis of the impact of substance abuse on spending in 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

States incur significant costs related to substance abuse that are hidden in departments and activities that do not bear the substance abuse label. They include law enforcement, welfare, social services, foster care, child protective services, court systems, unemployment and job training.

Key Findings

In its report, Shoveling Up: The Impact of Substance Abuse on State Budgets, the project team presented these findings:

  • Of the $620 billion spent by the states in 1998, $81.3 billion (13.1%) was associated with substance abuse and addiction.
  • Spending on prevention, treatment, and research represented just 3.7 percent of state spending related to substance abuse.
  • The largest share of substance abuse-related spending went to the:
    • Criminal justice system (37.8%).
    • Education (20.4%).
    • Health (18.7%).
    • Child and family assistance (9.5%) programs.

Key Recommendations

  • To reduce the burden of substance abuse on state spending, the project team recommends that states:
    • Invest in prevention and treatment programs targeted at groups likely to yield high payoff, including children, welfare recipients, prisoners and the mentally ill.
    • Take legislative and regulatory steps, such as increasing alcohol excise taxes, to lower the burden of substance abuse.
    • Set targets for reducing the impact of substance abuse on their budgets and install management practices to achieve them.