VICTORIA — The economic cost of substance use in Canada in 2014 was $38.4 billion, or about $1,100 for every Canadian, and came with a staggering toll of 67,515 deaths, says a report released Tuesday.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction partnered with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research to examine the data and estimate the harms of substance use based on health, justice, lost productivity and other costs.
While researchers acknowledged that Canada is in the middle of a crisis because of illicit opioid overdose deaths, their study concluded that two-thirds of substance use costs are associated with alcohol and tobacco.
It found the four substances related to the largest costs are alcohol at $14.6 billion, tobacco at $12 billion, opioids at $3.5 billion and marijuana at $2.8 billion.
“One of the key messages that comes out of this report is that while we do need to pay attention to the opioid crisis, while we do need to think very carefully as we move toward legalizing recreational cannabis, we shouldn’t forget about alcohol because it’s around and it’s costing Canadian society,” said Matthew Young, a senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction in Ottawa.
The report says costs associated with alcohol use jumped from $369 per person in 2007 to $412 per person in 2014.
It found alcohol use resulted in 14,827 deaths in 2014, at an average age of 65 years. Tobacco use caused 47,562 deaths at an average age of 74 years. Cannabis caused 8,851 deaths and opioids 2,396 deaths at an average age of 45 years.
Young, one of the report’s co-authors, said that when more substance use data becomes available beyond 2014, the economic and deadly impact of the ongoing opioid overdose crisis will likely reveal costly increases. He said researchers will also be watching for new data when recreational marijuana use becomes legal in Canada this October.
Canadians should be made more aware of the ongoing and escalating human and economic costs of alcohol use, Young said. He said even though the numbers of tobacco-caused deaths are higher than alcohol, they are showing signs of levelling off, while alcohol’s impact continues to increase.
“We have, as a culture, been moving towards greater availability and cheaper prices for alcohol,” Young said in a telephone interview. “It’s intermeshed within our lives. We shouldn’t lose sight of some of the substances we take for granted that are intertwined with our regular lives because they do still exact a toll.”
The study suggests Ontario and British Columbia could see a spike in alcohol-related harms and costs in the near future because both provinces have relaxed restrictions on alcohol sales since 2014.
“I think most people would be surprised to know that alcohol and tobacco are killing ten times more people than the other illicit drugs combined,” said Tim Stockwell, the report’s co-authors and a director with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.
Both researchers say they aren’t prohibitionists, but add that they would like to see more measures that make Canadians aware of the costs and harms of alcohol.