Oh The Damage Done
“I hit the city and
I lost my band
I watched the needle
Take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.” Neil Young, “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
Two years ago I wrote a report on the annual economic impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in New Hampshire. It surprised many (and probably created much skepticism) with its findings of $1.84 billion in costs in 2012. Since my analysis of 2012 data the number of drug induced deaths in New Hampshire has almost doubled, from just over 200 to 400 and there is a greater awareness of the damage done in the state by drug abuse.
What surprised me in 2014 was how much more advanced the data on the incidence of alcohol abuse and its negative impacts was than was the data on the incidence and negative impacts associated with drug abuse. I felt strongly then that my estimates of the costs of drug abuse were understating its true costs and I feel even more strongly about that today. Research on the negative impacts of alcohol use is more extensive, in part, because alcohol abuse affects more individuals and more individuals across a broader spectrum of the population. In addition, alcohol abuse has been identified as a major economic and societal issue for a much longer period of time. But I also think the relative lack of data and research on the societal and economic costs of drug abuse is, in part, a function of a tacit belief that drug abuse was largely a problem confined to individuals on the margin of society as well as some celebrities. In contrast, alcohol abuse has long been recognized as an affliction that does not discriminate along social, economic, or demographic lines. When the effects of drug abuse (or domestic abuse, human trafficking etc.) are seen to be confined to more marginal members of society it is easier to assign it a lower priority in the long list of public issues that should to be addressed. Increasingly common media reports about the dramatic rise in drug induced deaths, and drug use among a broader segment of society in New Hampshire and nationally, have raised the public’s (and policymakers’s) awareness of the socioeconomic breadth of the issue that long preceded the media’s attention. I couldn’t do my job well if I didn’t approach every analysis and every research project dispassionately but it is more than a little discomforting to me that our hearts today seem to be running around inside of reporters and journalists.
Me and my friends and colleagues in the business community frequently lament the fact that New Hampshire has among the highest electricity costs and highest business tax rates of any state in the nation, as well as the impacts that each has on NH’s economy. We should also be outraged by the fact that NH has the third highest rate of drug induced deaths per 100,000 residents among the 50 states, the tremendous costs that are associated with those deaths, as well as the costs associated with thousands of other users in the state who have not yet died from abusing drugs.
The rates in the chart are age adjusted, meaning they are adjusted to reflect difference in the age composition of each state’s population. In the same way the rate of heart attack deaths per 100,000 in a state like Florida (a state with more older residents) would be expected to be higher than in a state like Utah (the youngest state by median age), a younger state would be expected to have higher rates of drug induced deaths. New Hampshire is not a young state so our 400 drug induced deaths among our population creates a staggeringly high ratio given the composition of our population.
Maybe the hearts of most of the members of the business community are inside of accountants (as if they have hearts) rather than journalists: we should find out as the economic costs of drug abuse continue to rise.