How Much Do Drugs Cost: The Steep Price of Addiction

How much drugs cost is determined by a number of factors, but the high price of both prescription and illicit drugs can cause serious financial hardship.

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    How Much Drugs Cost Affects Addiction

    Between 1999 and 2017, over 700,000 Americans have died due to a drug overdose. Nearly three out of every four deaths (68%), involve an opioid (such as oxycodone or heroin). The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA, the nation’s highest organization dedicated solely to addiction research) attributes the dramatic rise in deaths to the massive proliferation of prescription opioid painkillers in the 1990s and 2000s. At its peak in 2012, there were 81.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. Consequently, opioids became easier to obtain, misuse, and become dependent on, and the cost of these drugs went down. As with other licit and illicit substances, the legal supply of a drug often affects street prices and the national rate of addiction.

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

    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, nonetheless.

    Studies of habit-forming substances show that increases in price for a drug affect rates of abuse. In 1975, the New York Times published an article about the “soaring prices” of marijuana as more wealthy people started using it. At the time, college students paid between $15 and $60 an ounce (between $71 and $285 today). Some high-grade ounces sold for as much as $350. Today, the overall cost of marijuana has risen faster than inflation, though high-grade prices remain stable.

    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.

    Street prices for weed, as it is often called, fluctuate across the country depending on supply, demand, and quality. The below table is a small snapshot across the country of average costs per ounce of marijuana by state.

    State
    Low-grade price per ounce
    High-grade price per ounce
    Arkansas$138.22 (lowest state price)$332.67
    California$193.25$256.79
    D.C.$377$595.87 (highest state price)
    Florida$169.39$298.70
    New York$238.51$337.81
    Texas$162.87$324.45

    In a study of marijuana smoking practices (the most common method of ingestion), blunts were the most popular, followed by joints, then pipes. Typically, a blunt contains 1.5 times more marijuana than a joint, and 2.5 times more than a pipe. Thus, those who smoke blunts are more likely to use larger amounts of marijuana more frequently than those who smoke it by other means – though pipe users were found to spend more money per gram of marijuana.

    The average ounce of weed yields approximately 28 blunts, 42 joints, or 70 bowls for a pipe. If, for instance, an individual smokes 4 joints per day, they would spend between $4,800 and $13,905 a year on marijuana.

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    The Price of Opioid Dependence and Addiction

    Because the category of opioids includes so many substances, prices vary widely. In 2017, there were 58.7 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in the U.S. – most were purchased using government- or privately-funded insurance. What’s worse, 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, 0.3% of the population used heroin in the past year; up to 80% of these individuals previously abused prescription painkillers.

    Vicodin costs about $126 for 100 pills without insurance (or $1.26 per tablet). The same, single pill costs $5 on the street (almost 4 times more).

    In 2017, there were 58.7 Opioid prescriptions per 100 people in the U.S. – most were purchased using government- or privately-funded insurance.

    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 dependence 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). Commonly, 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 often 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. Yet, because opioid addiction requires higher and higher amounts to get the same effect, an individual will need to take progressively higher numbers of pills each day, raising the total cost of their addiction significantly.

    The Cost of Heroin Addiction

     However, heroin and black tar heroin continue to be cut with a range of harmful products to increase drug trafficking organizations’ prices.

    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’ prices. 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 U.S. was $152 per gram (which is usually divided into 20 bags).

    People with severe heroin addictions 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.

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      Cocaine Street Prices and the Cost of Addiction

      Cocaine prices have remained about the same for decades, though purity has risen greatly.

      Cocaine prices have increased drastically over the past two decades, while purity has decreased. This is because more stringent import regulations imposed since 9/11 have forced drug cartels to find alternative means to import the drug into the United States. The added risk and cost has forced the cartels to dilute the purity to increase profits.

      According to the World Drug Report, cocaine in the U.S. 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).

      Typically, a gram of cocaine can be broken down into 10 lines or about 25 “bumps” or “hits”. Though people abuse cocaine at different rates depending on their addiction and tolerance to its effects, “hardcore” 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.

      Crack Cocaine Street Prices’ Effect on Addiction

      Crack cocaine, or simply crack for short, 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 suffering a crack cocaine addiction could spend as much as $82,125 a year on the drug.

      Meth Street Prices’ Effect on Addiction

      Another, more powerful stimulant, 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 U.S. 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 hit of meth (sometimes crystal meth) costs about $5 and is almost 100% pure.

      Today, a single hit 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 for 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).

      The price of meth can vary widely, ranging from $3 to $500 per gram. Since most hits cost about $5, and a gram contains about four hits, most grams cost between $20 and $60. Per year, a person with a severe meth addiction could spend between $12,775 and $38,325 a year on meth.

      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, one year-long methadone prescription costs about $4,700, compared to the $24,000 jailing an individual costs.

      According to several conservative estimates, every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft.

      - National Institute on Drug Abuse, ‘Is drug addiction treatment worth its cost?’, 2018

      If you need more information about the cost or availability of rehab, reach out to a dedicated treatment specialist today.

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