How Much Drug Costs Affect Addiction

Since 1999, more than 932,000 Americans have died from a drug overdose. In 2021, 71,238 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid (such as fentanyl or oxycodone). The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) attributes the dramatic rise in deaths to the massive proliferation of prescription opioid painkillers in the 1990s and 2000s. As a result, prescription opioids became easier to obtain, misuse, and become dependent on, and the increased supply led to a decrease in cost. As with other licit and illicit substances, the legal supply of a drug often affects street prices and the national rate of addiction.

Long-term addiction can come with severe consequences. Addiction’s ultimate cost is the risk of losing everything important, including the loss of someone’s freedom or life.

- Ashish Bhatt, MD, Doctor of Addiction Medicine

Below are the average prescription and street prices for opioids, heroin, and the common cost per gram of cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, and meth.

The Price Of Opioid Dependence And Addiction

The category of opioids includes multiple substances with varying prices. Many insurance companies continue to place more addictive opioids (such as long-acting morphine) into the lowest cost tiers while less addictive alternatives remain more expensive. Comparatively, roughly 0.3% of the population used heroin in the past year, and up to 80% of these individuals previously abused prescription painkillers.

Vicodin costs about $142 for 100 pills without insurance (or $1.42 per tablet). The same, single pill costs $5 on the street .

The average yearly cost of an opioid addiction depends on the severity of the addiction, the location of the individual, and what prescription and synthetic opioids are available at the time. Since many people with an opioid dependency get their supply from their doctor, insurance can also inadvertently defray the cost of addiction. For instance, Vicodin (the brand name version of acetaminophen/hydrocodone) costs about $126 for 100 pills (or $1.26 per tablet). In contrast, the same pill costs $5 on the street, or $500 for a bottle of 100. High prescription and street prices for these types of pills can lead people to search for cheaper alternatives like heroin and fentanyl.

Prescription Opioid Painkiller Prices Compared To Street Values

Prescription opioid
Cost without insurance per pill
Street price per pill
Fentanyl patch (25mcg/hr) $9.40 $40
Norco® (325mg/7.5mg) $3.68 $3
Oxycodone (15mg) $0.33 $20
OxyContin® (15mg) $6.52 $15
Percocet® (10mg/325mg) $24.54 $10
Suboxone® film (8mg/2mg) $9.21 $20
Tramadol (50mg) $0.62 $2

Taken 3 times daily, an oxycodone prescription (among the most common prescriptions) may cost about $361.35 per year without insurance, or $3,285 per year if purchased on the street. However, because someone with an opioid dependence will require higher and higher amounts to get the same effect, the individual may begin taking more pills each day, raising the total cost of their addiction significantly.

There are specific dangers that are associated with each type of opioid (both prescription and illicit). For prescription opioid medication, the risk of addiction is high because opioids activate powerful reward centers in the brain. All opioids trigger the release of endorphins that muffle one’s perception of pain. For illicit opioids, the associated dangers also come from the high risk of addiction, overdose, and death. In some cases, street drugs are “cut” with the fentanyl to lessen the price; however, even small doses of fentanyl are deadly.  

Due to the high risk of addiction, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of an opioid addiction. Common signs of addiction include:

  • Taking an opioid in a way not intended by the doctor who prescribed it.
  • Seeking the same prescription from multiple doctors.
  • Excessive mood swings (include swift mood changes from elation to hostility). 

Often treatment for an opioid addiction will include medication-assisted therapy (MAT), which combines medication (like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone) with counseling and behavioral therapies. Detoxification alone is not a treatment for opioid addiction, but it does remove the physiological dependence while managing opioid withdrawal, which may need to occur before treatment. However, the detox process can affect individuals differently and potentially be life-threatening, so it is integral that an individual does not try to undergo a detox without medical supervision. Fortunately, there are many treatment and rehab options for opioid addiction.

Explore These Featured Treatment Centers

The Cost Of Heroin Addiction

The cost of heroin continues to drop, while potency levels rise. However, heroin and black tar heroin continue to be cut with a range of harmful products to increase drug trafficking organizations’ profits. A “baggie” (or small, single-use bag) of heroin typically costs between $5 and $20. In 2016, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported the average price of heroin in the US was $152 per gram (which is usually divided into 20 bags).

Those with a severe heroin addiction have described purchasing 10 to 15 bags of the drug per day. Following this model of use, an individual would spend between $438 and $1,750 per week and between $22,810 and $91,250 per year on heroin, depending on its street price.

Heroin, an opioid made from morphine, is a highly addictive substance. Those who regularly use heroin will often develop a tolerance that can lead to physical dependence. One of the immediate dangers of heroin use is the risk of overdose. An additional danger of heroin use involves needle sharing. Drug use by means of injection increases the risk of bacterial infections, blood poisoning, skin infections, and collapsed veins. The act of sharing needles increases individuals’ risk of spreading and contracting HIV and hepatitis B or C.

Like other opioid addictions, treatment for a heroin addiction may involve a process of detoxification before treatment. 

Cocaine Street Prices And The Cost Of Addiction

According to the World Drug Report, cocaine in the US costs between $25 and $200 a gram, with typical prices checking in at about $112 per gram. In 2016, the average price was about $93 when, in many places around the world, its purity also reached record highs.

A cocaine addiction can be one of the most expensive drug habits to support due to the high price of the drug compared to similar amphetamines (such as crack and meth).

Cocaine use brings with it many dangerous side-effects and symptoms. Cocaine use can inflict damage to multiple organs and parts of the body, including the nose, throat, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and heart. Cocaine use is also linked to an increased risk of stroke and inflammation of the heart muscle. 

For treating cocaine addiction, behavioral therapies are proven to be effective in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Behavioral therapies like contingency management (CM), also called motivational incentives, use a voucher or prize-based system that rewards individuals for abstaining from cocaine use. Another effective approach for preventing relapse is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals develop skills that will help them achieve long-term abstinence.

Though people use cocaine at different rates depending on their addiction and tolerance to its effects, consistent users usually use up to 5 grams per day. Each year, this kind of cocaine addiction would cost up to $169,725, though most spend much less. Consequently, cocaine is often considered one of the most expensive stimulant addictions, since other stimulants like crack cocaine and meth can be manufactured for much less.

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Crack Cocaine Street Prices And Addiction

Crack cocaine is the crystalized version of cocaine. Crack generally costs less than cocaine because it is less pure and produces shorter-lasting (albeit more intense) highs. In 2004, the World Drug Report listed $109 as the typical price for crack cocaine, with a general range between $18 and $200. Similarly, a 2016 story by Vice reported the average cost at $60 per gram, with an addiction costing $225 per day in Canada. As such, an individual with a crack cocaine addiction could spend as much as $82,125 a year on the drug.

Crack cocaine dependence can develop quickly and is linked to various cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, and psychiatric problems. Because crack is smoked, the rate that the substance reaches the brain is much quicker, and its effects dissipate quickly. Crack cocaine’s rapid and short high increases the risk of addiction as individuals will require more and more of the substance to reach the same result. 

Dependence can lead to addiction, and there are multiple warning signs of a crack addiction. These warning signs include the inability to cease use, loss of interest, paranoia, anxiety, and financial issues. Thankfully, there are many treatment options for a crack cocaine addiction. 

Marijuana: Medical Costs Versus The Price Of Addiction

As marijuana becomes legalized for medical and recreational purposes in more states, more individuals are likely to try it for themselves. While most people consider the risk of developing a marijuana addiction to be low, the possibility of a psychological dependence remains.

Studies of habit-forming substances show that increases in price for a drug affects the rates of abuse. Today, the overall cost of marijuana has risen faster than inflation, though high-grade prices remain stable. Street prices fluctuate across the country depending on supply, demand, and quality. The lowest state price for an ounce of low-grade marijuana comes from Arkansas at $138.22. In contrast, the highest state price comes from DC at $377 per ounce of low-grade marijuana and $595.87 per ounce of high-grade marijuana.

For individuals with a medical marijuana card, expect to pay between $200 and $400 on average for an ounce and $20 to $60 for a gram.

Many believe that marijuana is not “as harmful” as other legal or illicit substances, but marijuana can seriously impair physical and cognitive function in the short and long term. In the short term, marijuana use impairs memory, induces hallucinations (when taken in high doses), and can induce psychosis. In the long term, marijuana can impact brain development, impairing thinking, memory, and learning functions. Some individuals even experience cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which causes users to experience cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

Marijuana use can lead to the development of adverse side-effects and habitual use. Marijuana addiction is associated with dependence, where a person feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, and cravings. Other signs of addiction included continued use despite a desire to quit, strained relationships, and the inability to cut down or cease the use of marijuana. 

Sometimes those who use marijuana also are diagnosed with other psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder (also known as co-occurring disorders). So, to effectively treat a marijuana addiction, treatment needs to address all underlying conditions. The following behavioral treatments that have shown promise in treating marijuana addiction include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy. 

Meth Street Prices And Addiction

Methamphetamines have been shown to release four times as much dopamine as cocaine. Although meth “cook” times are longer, drug trafficking organizations can generate more profit in a shorter amount of time. While extremely hazardous to make, most meth found in the US today comes from drug cartels to the south. Border patrol agents reportedly seize 10 to 20 times more meth today than they did 10 years ago – typically hidden aboard vehicles trying to cross border checkpoints.

We’re seeing a lot of longtime addicts who used crack cocaine switch to meth. You ask them about it, and they’ll say: ‘Hey, it’s half the price, and it’s good quality.’

- Branden Combs, Portland police officer, 2018

Today, a single dose of meth (sometimes called crystal meth, depending on its formation) costs about $5 and is almost 100% pure. Consequently, in much of rural America and the West, people are dying of meth-related overdose at nearly twice the rates of heroin-related overdose. Because most develop a tolerance to its effects in a short period of time, some who have used meth describe smoking as much as a “teener” per day (about 1.75 grams).

Meth is highly addictive and, with continued use, can cause drastic changes to the brain and body. Meth use affects the brain’s dopamine system, which is associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. Long-term meth use can result in negative consequences like addiction, severe weight loss, dental problems, paranoia, and changes in brain structure and function. Studies show that some of the most effective treatments for meth addiction are behavioral therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational incentives.  

The price of meth can vary widely, ranging from $3 to $500 per gram. Since most single doses cost about $5, and a gram contains about 4 hits, most grams cost between $20 and $60. A person with a severe meth addiction could spend between $12,775 and $38,325 a year on meth. Someone attempting to stop using meth, or detox, without supervision may experience a variety of severe, potentially fatal symptoms.

The Value Of Addiction Treatment

According to NIDA, drug addiction and substance abuse cost the United States more than $600 billion each year. Addiction treatment (such as drug detox and inpatient and outpatient rehab) is much cheaper in the long run than the price of addiction. Addiction treatment also costs less than other measures to curb drug use, such as incarceration. For instance, a year-long methadone prescription costs about $4,700, compared to the $24,000 jailing an individual costs.

Treatment can provide one with lifelong tools to help recover and stay abstinent, breaking the negative cycle of addiction. The cost of investing in yourself outweighs the long-term and potentially deadly consequence of chronic substance use.

- Ashish Bhatt, MD, Doctor of Addiction Medicine

Substance abuse treatment benefits an individual’s finances in the long run, and treatment can also teach lifelong coping skills, improve one’s self-esteem, and help individuals understand behaviors and motivations. Substance abuse counseling, which can consist of individual or group therapy sessions, also helps individuals develop social skills without the help of substances and recognize triggers and stressors.

If you need more information about the cost or availability of rehab, contact a treatment provider today. There are many ways to pay for rehab, and many treatment centers accept multiple different types of insurance. In addition to that, there are payment plans available; sliding scales of cost may apply depending on income and on need. If you need help, reach out.