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Economic Consequences Of Drug Use In The United States

Everyone thought that the legalization of marijuana would lead to huge losses of productivity. But by 2022, most states have some form of legally accessible marijuana, and their economies are only benefitting from it. But that does not mean drug use did not impact their economies.

Marijuana is one thing, but study after study show that it is basically barely a drug at all, and by no means a narcotic. The real drugs that have gone on to affect the economy of the United States are cocaine and its derivative crack, heroin and other opioids, and alcohol.

Let’s go one by one and examine what they have done.

Cocaine and Crack

Cocaine and crack are two sides of the same coin. Cocaine is used by the rich, while crack is chemically similar and used by the poor. Yet the minimum prison sentences for crack are far harsher than those for cocaine. This should give you an idea of how they are viewed.

Essentially, crack has had a disastrous effect on inner city populations, particularly African American populations. The former director of the FBI has said that every investigation he had ever led into crack distribution eventually led back to the CIA, meaning that this is definitely by design. This has resulted in many people either incarcerated or left to deal with addiction.

But the hidden cost of this is in the system around penalizing the recreational use of crack. The court systems have to be overtaxed with drug trials, private prisons have flourished, resulting in more enthusiastic sentencing for kickbacks, and of course those prisoners have to be fed.

In short, the crack problem in the United States is not that people are using crack. It is that there are elements within the government that are bending around crack, both in its distribution and in its racially motivated crusade against the people that it sells it to.

Heroin and Opioids

But as bad as crack is, it has nothing on the negative effect of opioids on the country. The main reason for this is the overmedication of the people who are prescribed opioids. This has led to huge increases in dependency, eventually resulting in addicts turning to heroin as a substitute.

People have been put on the streets, families have been torn apart, and again the court and police systems have been worn thin by the distribution of drugs due to greed.

This underlines the issue with treating addiction to drugs as a crime rather than a disease: It is bad enough that a dentist or doctor whom a person should be able to trust might prescribe them a highly addictive medication when they do not have to. But that would be an easy problem to solve if rehabilitation were easier to access in the United States.

But instead, the people who are unknowingly hooked on these drugs end up lost and without help, meaning that they are not only disenfranchised from society, but left without any help.


Alcohol is an interesting narcotic, because it clearly cannot be outlawed that easily. The United States tried 100 years ago, and the results were disastrous. Specifically, the obscenely high demand for alcohol resulted in the creation of a huge criminal element due to the demand.

But at the same time, there were positives to the prohibition. The original intent of banning alcohol was led by feminists, with the goal of lowering rates of spousal abuse. And indeed, spousal abuse was far lesser during prohibition years than it was before or after.

It also lowered rates of alcoholism among the working class. But the real question is whether or not these benefits outweighed the damage caused to American society by the other consequences of prohibition. This is difficult to say, but there is one angle you can look at it.

The mass demand for alcohol during the prohibition led to the rise of gangs in every part of the US, from the inner city to the deep countryside. In response, the government formed multiple police task forces that were authorized to use military force and equipment on American people.

Essentially, the militarization of the police began with the prohibition. And that militarization is what led to almost all public funding being directed towards police departments rather than schools and infrastructure. The economic effects of that are essentially incalculable.


The effects of drug use in the United States come in three forms: Lost labor, lost funding, and lost lives. Lost labor is obviously the least consequential, as it represents a loss that is easily replaced. Someone gets high and misses work, someone else can be called in to work.

This is not even that damaging in the long term. Someone gets high many times and loses their job and it is usually not that hard to find a replacement, provided that the work place is willing to pay for them. But it is when lost labor escalates that the problem becomes real.

Drugs in the United States are everywhere, and the society has had to warp around them in some ways. Huge numbers of people were rotting in prison in many states before marijuana was legalized in them. This obviously resulted in lost labor, but it also meant that the prisons had to receive funding that they would not have needed otherwise.

And of course, the worst of all of these is the lost lives. Police forces have gone from having specialized units with military weapons and tactics to treating recreational drugs and their use and distribution as military insurrections on American soil.

This has resulted in many people being killed or imprisoned for life due to drugs. And that is the real cost of drugs: No the effects of the drugs themselves, but the failure of society to respond to them in a healthy manner.

Fortunately, there are groups working to combat this. Ocean recovery announced plans to expand, so if you need somewhere for you or a loved one to go, give them a look.

About The Authors

Daisy-Mae Schmitt

Daisy-Mae Schmitt - Daisy-Mae is obsessed with inventing new ways to create awesome content that's absurdly useful and successful, with over ten years of editorial and inbound marketing experience. She also serves as a reporter, strategist, interviewer, mentor, and therapist for in-house contributors and clients.

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