illegal drugs


Every year millions of dollars in illegal drugs enter the United States. Although the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been fighting a “War on Drugs” for years, drug use and related crimes still remain high - as do their costs to society as a whole. From the lawmaker's perspective, the big question is how best to combat drugs: by cutting
off demand through education and treatment or by cutting off the supply through going after drug makers and dealers?

Who's doing what?

Drug use varies – depending on your sex and racial/ethic group - but probably the biggest determinant of whether you're doing drugs or not is your age.

% of Americans who have used illegal drugs:

  • In their life: 41.7% (2001) WH;

  • In the past month: 8.2% (2003) SAMHSA


% that did illegal drugs in last 30 days - by age (2003)


source: SAMHSA


  • Percentage of Users in Past Month by Sex (2003) SAMHSA

    • Men: 10%

    • Women: 6.5%


% that did illegal drugs in past 30 days - by race/ethnicity

source: SAMHSA

Drugs of choice

  • Percent of Americans illegally using – in the past month (2003) (SAMHSA):

    • Marijuana: 6.2%

    • Psychotherapeutics*: 2.7%

    • Cocaine: 1%

    • Hallucinogens: 0.4%

    • Inhalants: 0.2%

*illegal use of prescription pain killers and psychiatric drugs

  • Meth madness. Despite the hype about methamphetamines, usage is not skyrocketing. Percent of Americans using meth - in the past month (SAMHSA)

    • 2004: 0.2%

    • 2003: 0.3%

    • 2002: 0.3%

How much and how bad…


Drugs cost – and not just their street price. The costs to society of illegal drug use are spread between health care expenses, work loss, and property damage, among others.

  • Estimate of costs of illegal drug use (WH):

    • $181 billion total, including:

      • health care: $16 billion (prevention, treatment, medical consequences)

      • productivity losses: $129 billion (premature death, prison, drug careers)

      • "other" costs: $36 billion (law enforcement and courts)


  • Drug crimes as percentage of all crimes:

    • 33.9% of all state felony convictions are for possession or selling drugs (1998) (WH).

  • Percent of all prisoners who were using drugs at time of their arrest (WH):

    • State prisons: 33% (1997);

    • Federal prisons: 22% (1997);

    • Jails: 36% (1996) (includes convicted and non convicted inmates).


War on Drugs

  • Amount spent on war on drugs (2002) (WH):

    • Total: $11.5 billion;

    • Prevention: $2.1 billion;

    • Treatment: $3.1 billion;

    • Law enforcement: $6.3 billion.

  • DEA arrests

federal DEA arrests made a year


source: DEA

how much the DEA seized - in 2002


How much


61,594 kgs


705 kgs


195,644 kgs


118,049,279 doses


11,532,704 doses

source: DEA

Treatment (WH)

  • Average cost of treatment: $3,145 (1995, in '98 dollars)

  • Cost of one year of imprisonment:

    • In federal prison: $23,900 (1997, in '98 dollars);

    • In state prison: $20,261 (1998);

    • In jail: $19,903 (1998).

  • Costs saved by treatment/per person: $9,814 (1995, in '98 dollars).

  • Number of inmates who are rearrested within six months of release from prison:

    • who received treatment: 3.3%;

    • who did not receive treatment: 12.1%.

Where the facts are from

Other useful sources

  • Monitoring the Future - for stats on teen drug use

  • One reader suggests that many of the stats above are flawed since they rely on people in surveys openly admitting they've taken drugs.
    That reader suggests the following sites for an expanded understanding of the facts: Drug War Facts, CSDP, and Drug Policy Alliance.

Updated January, 2007

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose
a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

holy cow native americans

holy cow native americans are more addicted than blacks white and latinos

a random Joe (not verified) | April 8, 2010 - 7:15pm

advanced programs

"well, in that case don't you think the drug treatment centers across
the country should now introduce advance programs that can help in
defeating the addiction issues?"

And what are these "advanced"programs?

lending (not verified) | January 12, 2010 - 1:17am

dont use drugs??????

instead of using drugs why dont they just kill doesnt make any difference anyway...

a random Joe (not verified) | February 9, 2009 - 1:07pm

I don't think a solution is

I don't think a solution is as cut and dry as either cutting off the supply or educating the public. If you cut off the supply people will still want their drugs. Millions are addicted to one drug or another. Where there is a demand someone is going to supply it. Not to say stopping the smuggling and importation of drugs isn't the answer it is definitely part of it. Education is a big step, to prevent people from wanting to try and do the drugs in the first place is where the most help needs to be. Younger and younger kids are doing drugs and serious drugs like cocaine and heroin in schools. Any drug treatment center can attest that cutting off the supply wouldn't help nearly as much as education in the first place.

emtjason | February 18, 2008 - 3:33pm


Where did you get the statistic that most people who do drugs end up killing themselves? Do you mean they lose control of their lives? Why do people wnat to feel good momentarily, but permanently lose their life?


What do you think of better ways to reach youth?

dujardin | January 10, 2008 - 9:44pm

Jocelyn Jean Jules, Alex

Jocelyn Jean Jules, Alex Rosa   

Religion III

January 8, 2008

 We see reality because some people feel they need to use drugs to use drug to feel good. What I find moral about the public policy is try to prevent the use of illegal drugs. The reason why that they try to prevent illegal drugs it is mostly all drug end up killing the people that use it.We should try to but away all the drug dealers and get help for all the people that are addicted to drugs, By getting more rehab centers for addicts

supergoat08 | January 8, 2008 - 4:22pm