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Report: New Hampshire economy lost $1.85 billion due to substance abuse in 2012

Last modified: 11/19/2014 12:06:38 AM
Drug and alcohol abuse cost New Hampshire about $1.85 billion in 2012, according to estimates released by local advocacy organization New Futures this week.

Putting a price tag on alcohol and drug abuse in the state means looking beyond the financial impact it has on the person using the substances, New Futures officials said. It also means looking at lost productivity in the workplace and the strain it creates on the state’s health care and criminal justice systems, plus lost tax revenue and vehicle crashes.

Impaired productivity costs added up to an estimated $1.08 billion in 2012, and worker absenteeism related to substance misuse cost an additional $66.4 million, the report says. Issues related to substance abuse and addiction cost about $15.6 million for treatment facilities, $230.76 million in other medical expenses (which includes emergency care, prescription charges and more), and $19.61 million in insurance administration, according to the report.

Criminal justice-related costs – which include expenses related to police protection, the judicial system, corrections, payments to crime victims and victim productivity loss – added up to about $284 million. Motor vehicle crashes added an additional $73 million to the tab, while lost state and local tax revenue added an additional $61 million, according to the report.

“The most fundamental question raised by the cost estimates presented in this report is whether New Hampshire is committing adequate resources to prevent and treat the serious problem of drug and alcohol misuse,” the report says, pointing to a need to place more focus on the “impact of substance misuse into the fiscal and economic policymaking of the state.”

This report is a follow-up to one New Futures released in 2012, which only examined the costs of excessive alcohol consumption. Dover-based PolEcon Research conducted the analyses for both reports, and the firm’s principal, Brian Gottlob, served as lead author.

Tricia Lucas, advocacy director for New Futures, said the report underscores the urgency of devoting state resources to addressing this issue.

“These numbers matter,” Lucas said. “Our point here is this is an enormous, enormous drag on the economy because of the number of people who are misusing substances, when misuse has a significant impact on the state’s economy.”

Moving forward, Lucas said she hopes this will serve as evidence in support of continuing the state’s New Hampshire Health Protection Program (or Medicaid expansion), which includes coverage for substance abuse treatment. She also hopes to renew a conversation about devoting more revenue from alcohol sales directly toward substance abuse resources in New Hampshire.

David Juvet, senior vice president for public policy with the Business Industry Association, said he hears frequently from business owners who are concerned about the adverse effects – economically or otherwise – of substance abuse in the workplace. Sometimes, Juvet said, employers struggle to find prospective employees who are able to pass a drug test. Other times, he said, these issues can manifest themselves in the form of losses in an employee’s work quality or workplace disputes stemming from someone’s substance use.

Employers should make sure to promote available treatment or support services to their employees, Juvet said. Still, he acknowledged, this issue is a particularly difficult one to tackle in the workplace because stigma and a fear of consequences might prevent someone from speaking up when they need help.

Juvet, too, said this issue demands careful attention from state policymakers in the months ahead.

“Many employers are hoping the state as part of the budgeting process will not forget about the importance of prevention and treatment programs,” Juvet said. “We all know there are going to be a lot of demands on the budget, but we’re hoping this is an area that is not forgotten in the crunch time of putting the budget together.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)


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