Splurging on Drugs as a Nation

BreathalyserWhat recession? What slow global economic recovery? Apparently there is enough money in Australian households to spend on illicit drugs, if the numbers are to be believed. Be prepared to be surprised by the totals because the Aussie dollars used to purchase illicit drugs is staggering. Making the numbers even worse is the additional amount spent on drug crime budgets, representing money that could be spent on improving the country’s infrastructure, fighting homelessness, or creating jobs. Employers often see themselves as battling drug and alcohol use in small skirmishes inside the workplace, but the truth is that the workplaces represent important venues for cutting drug expenditures throughout the nation.

The government likes to issue statistics, and their importance should not be minimised. However, like most government statistics, they are buried in reports filled with legalese and carefully worded paragraphs. Presenting these statistics in an understandable way to bring home the extent of the illicit drug market is well worth the effort because they are staggering. For example, Australian households already spend $9.3 billion on water and sewage in a country where drought is common and additional infrastructure is needed. Yet they spend $7.1 billion on illicit drugs.

Wasting Money on Drugs in Unprecedented Amounts

The numbers are simply amazing, and once again, justify workplace drug and alcohol testing. Reporting data per the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians are spending:1

  • Cocaine – $783 million
  • Heroin – $750 million
  • Ecstasy – $300 million
  • Amphetamines – $1.5 billion
  • Cannabis – $3.8 billion

Where is all this money going? It is going to drug manufacturers and drug dealers. Australians spent $80.7 billion on food from 2011-2012, but spent $3.8 billion on cannabis, the equivalent of 4.7 percent of the entire food expense for all households. Another $14.6 billion was spent on alcohol during the same time period. Another staggering percentage is the 80 percent profit margin that the drug manufacturers and dealers are making. Australians are paying enormous amounts for substances that that can destroy their health, relationships, and careers. Why?

According to the President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Alex Wodak, it is all about economics. People are making huge profits getting others addicted to drugs, and Australians are choosing to cooperate. Once addicted, the drug habit is difficult to break. The main response from politicians so far has been tighter drug prohibition laws, and yet spending on illicit drugs keeps climbing. Thus there is a raging debate as to the efficacy of this approach.

Employers play a critical role in slowing down the growth of this problem. They are not law enforcement agents, but they have important positions as frontline people who can steer addicts to rehabilitation and counselling programs. Whereas law enforcement can only arrest drug addicts and dealers to get them off the streets temporarily, employers can help workers reach resources focused on harm minimisation and restoration of pre-addiction lives.

Incalculable Costs

To put the drug spending in perspective, Australia’s federal, state and territory governments spent approximately $1 billion on drug law enforcement. That has led to discussions as to whether the money is well spent because the rates of substance abuse continue to get worse and not better. The rest of the money spent on drug related activities went for treatment, harm reduction, and prevention. The bottom line to all the numbers is that illicit drugs cost the government, households, and employers enormous amounts of money. When everything is taken into account, including long term health issues, workplace injuries, lost productivity, legal fees, and all the other drug related expenses, the grand total seems incalculable.

Employers implementing drug and alcohol policies and testing procedures are doing their part to promote safe workplaces. CMM Technology (cmm.com.au) can help by providing high quality saliva and urine testing supplies like the DrugWipe 5S, the Alere DDS2 Saliva Testing System, the Medix Integrated Pro-Split Cup, and the Alcosense Precision breathalyser.


  1. 1 Amy Corderoy. (2013, June 22). Nation’s $7b drug splurge. Retrieved from The Age – National: http://bit.ly/1f5a7tl
  2. Alison Ritter, Ross McLeod and Marian Shanahan. (2013 June). Government Drug Policy Expenditure in Australia. Retrieved from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre: http://bit.ly/1mknsjK.

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