Alaska editorial: Bemoaning the cost of substance abuse

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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The dollar amount in a recent report about the economic cost to Alaska caused by drug and alcohol abuse is staggering - $738 million.

The report, which looked at the year 2003, also found that nearly a tenth of the population was victimized by alcohol- or drug-related crimes.

The study, published in December 2005 by the McDowelll Group and commissioned by the state Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, has a pretty large margin of error, at 25 percent, due to gaps in data. Even so, the overall picture it paints is a stark one in need of attention.

"Alcohol and other drug abuse impacts the economy in many ways. Public safety, health care and public assistance are among the areas impacted by alcohol and other drug abuse. The extent of these impacts is evident in the level of alcohol and other drug dependency and its associated cost on the Alaska economy," the report says in its opening pages.

It's an issue deserving of attention - by the public, by state and local governments, by the media.

But the issue isn't anything new to businesses, which suffer from lost productivity and increased costs, and the social services agencies that deal with alcohol and drug problems day after day. They see the damage of alcohol and drug abuse firsthand.

Here's just one of the many eye-opening numbers: 236, as in the average number of people in Alaska who died from alcohol and drug abuse each year from 1999 to 2003. For 2003, the focus of the McDowell report, the value of the productivity lost to those deaths totaled $183 million, according to a recent Alaska Journal of Commerce report on the study.

How about this attention-grabbing number, too: Roughly 1,200 Alaskans sat in prisons in 2003 on convictions related to alcohol or drug abuse. The economic cost of that, according to the study? A total of $39 million in lost productivity.

And one more: Nearly 40,000 adult Alaskans who are alcohol dependent or abusers, for a lost productivity of $106 million in 2003, and about 14,000 who are drug abusers, for $30 million in lost productivity.

There's lots more.

The findings from this report shouldn't end up on a shelf somewhere without at least some discussion - and maybe even some action - in response.

The McDowell Group's report is available online at the Web site of the Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at www.hss.state.ak.us/abada.



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