Cost of substance abuse in Wyoming is higher than expected

Apr 26, 2013

As it addressed issues concerning substance abuse, one thing the state never had were Wyoming specific numbers on the financial impact of substance abuse.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports that a recent study has found that the cost of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse is staggering.

BOB BECK:  This is the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center or WYSAC  today people in the state are being asked about their tobacco use.

“And how old were you when you first smoked at least one cigarette every day for 30 days in a row?  16? All right…”

BECK:  Recently WYSAC was asked to determine the economic impact of substance abuse in the state.  They were to look at Health Care Costs, productivity losses, and other effects on society…such as costs of crime and road accidents.  Research scientist Humphrey Costello says they looked at 2010 Wyoming numbers.

HUMPHREY COSTELLO:  Alcohol costs Wyoming…Wyoming society…$843 million dollars a year, that’s a huge, huge number.  For tobacco it’s $689-million dollars, for drug abuse it’s $391 million dollars.  I think hearing those numbers lets one recognize how much we are all paying to deal with the consequences of abuse.

BECK:  And just to be clear, the data got Costello’s attention.

COSTELLO:  The burden is staggeringly large…yeah it’s huge.

BECK:  Fellow researcher Nanette Nelson says when they went into the study there was an expectation that tobacco would have that biggest societal impact to the state.

NANETTE NELSON:  Initially our data was looking at hospital and health care costs, and tobacco was rising to the top.  And then when we started looking at productivity losses, you know alcohol just galloped along and it was surprising to us that alcohol came out as large as it did. 

BECK:  Nelson says the biggest impact substance abuse has on the state is loss of productivity.

NELSON:  So we have folks that come into work, they’re slightly impaired; they’re not as productive as folks that don’t abuse alcohol, drugs or even smoke cigarettes.  They also show that they’re often more sick, so there is more absenteeism. 

BECK:  While the researchers were surprised by the negative impact alcohol abuse has on the state, Wyoming Chronic Disease and substance abuse project manager Keith Hotle says it puts a number on something those in the prevention community has been seeing for awhile.  He says they know that Wyoming has high levels of binge drinking and driving while drunk, but he had no idea the social impact of that was quite this big.

KEITH HOTLE:  We’ve always known it’s a problem and we have devoted significant resources to dealing with it.  But I think know when you step back and look at these numbers you can say well, it’s as important as we always thought it was. 

BECK:  But while the alcohol numbers are staggering, so is the cost of tobacco, and drugs.

HOTLE:  You know we have a culture that really is founded on an individual’s right to choose to do whatever they want to do as long as they are not hurting someone else.  And I think that this kind of study looks at the big issue and says well, understand that there is a social cost outside of yourself that is related to that.

BECK:  You could look at the report and wonder if prevention efforts have been working, but Hotle is far from discouraged.  He says the fact that alcohol surpasses tobacco probably shows that tobacco prevention efforts have been working.  He sees this new information as a way to focus their prevention efforts.  Toni Servenka is the Director of the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming says the report backs up their efforts..

TONI SERVENKA:  My takeaway is that what we are doing in prevention is of utmost importance and I feel that it really does justify the money we are spending. 

BECK:  She also agrees with Hotle that focusing on some key areas will help reduce the overall cost of substance abuse.  

SERVENKA:  Preventing youth initiation to alcohol would bring this total down a great deal. 

BECK:  Researchers Nanette Nelson and Humphrey Costello say that this Wyoming specific data is important and should give state leaders critical information they need to set policy.  And one last note…while the numbers are eye catching…they say they are on the conservative side, so it’s possible the costs could be even greater than their report suggests.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.