Addiction costs widespread, long-lasting

Reporter: Chris Cifatte

FORT MYERS, Fla. Addicts are running up a tab for more than just themselves.

The amount of resources spent to fight addiction add up to an average of about $2,500 for every adult in the U.S. Costs related to medical care, lost productivity, crime, unemployment, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness and early death all place a burden on the public at large.

“It affects everybody, whether they want to realize that it does or not,” former addict Joan Hayden said.

The cost of imprisonment for a drug user is upwards of $30,000 a year, and more could wind up in prison if the Justice Department rolls back Obama-era leniency toward drug offenders, as it’s reportedly considering.

Rehab has been key to turning around the life of many addicts, but it doesn’t come cheaply.

Costs can range from $7,500 to between $50,000 and $60,000 for each patient, according to Robert Raab, program director of Nextep, a south Fort Myers outpatient substance abuse recovery facility.

Many such programs are taxpayer-funded, whether the rehab comes via court order or is subsidized by the state. But those who’ve been through it, like Hayden, insist it’s not money wasted.

“Something just clicked,” Hayden said. “I kept going to meetings. I kept going to 12-step programs. I was doing counseling, you know, really doing what they suggested that I do.”

Hayden has been off drugs for 15 years and is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work next year. She’s a success story who illustrates the potential bargain of rehab compared to the alternative of leaving addicts to sort out their issues without help.

“You’re going to pay for it either way,” Raab said. “It’s going to cost us more to turn a blind eye to it than to deal with it head on.”

Southwest Floridians don’t have to go far to bear witness to the problem, Raab said.

“Drug addiction is extremely prevalent in the Fort Myers area,” he said. “People are dying on a weekly basis because of this disease.”

Many of them simply fell through the cracks. People who complete an initial detox program often have to make it several weeks before they can find long-term help because space in long-term rehab programs is in short supply — an expensive recipe for failure.

“So now you’ve got a 21-day lapse — the probability that that newly recovering person with a week clean in detox making it to that 21-day mark (is) next to nothing,” Raab said.

Hayden stared down the challenges facing her to get clean and stay that way. But just because she turned her life around doesn’t mean the costs don’t linger.

“I was denied many jobs because of my record,” she said. “I was denied many opportunities.”


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