Last updated: 01 June 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Samantha Miller
There were over 840,000 deaths due to drug overdose from 1999-2019 in the United States. In 2019 alone, 70,630 people died from a drug overdose, increasing over 4% from 2018.
- Opioids are widely available, both as prescription drugs and illegal drugs like heroin, and cover a wide range of substances. This means that they are among the most abused substances in the USA today, with nearly 59 out of every 100 people having obtained an opiate-based prescription in 2017
- The legalization and increased popularity of marijuana has led to “designer” or high-grade options becoming prevalent. This has led the price of marijuana to rise faster than inflation, with cheaper alternatives to high-grade marijuana becoming desirable for those who can’t afford it
- A single hit of meth can cost as little as $5 and is often 100% pure. Due to it having one of the lowest street drug prices, in areas where meth abuse is most prevalent (rural America and the west), meth-related overdoses are reported at almost twice the rate of heroin overdoses
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Drugs cost lives
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests this rising death rate may be due to the increased availability of prescription opioid painkillers in the 1990s and 2000s. In addition, drug addiction costs the United States over $740 billion per annum, with yearly associated healthcare costs alone totaling $11 billion.
While the prevalence of opioid addiction has had a devastating impact on lives and the economy, it also places a significant personal financial burden on the user. Financial instability in a drug user is a negative indicator of addiction, indicating that the person may be investing more they can afford into their drug or alcohol habit. In addition, prolonged substance abuse can lead to serious money difficulties, which can put a strain on relationships, work, and mental health or tempt an individual into crime.
The cost of opioid addiction
Opioids are widely available, both as prescription drugs and illegal drugs like heroin, and cover a wide range of substances. This means that they are among the most abused substances in the USA today, with nearly 59 out of every 100 people having obtained an opiate-based prescription in 2017. Around 12% of these patients develop an opioid use disorder. Opioid-based painkillers are readily available, and insurance companies often cover the cost. Morphine, a highly addictive long-acting opiate, is in the lowest cost tier, while less addictive alternatives are comparatively more expensive. For those without insurance, the temptation is to turn to expensive street alternatives.
The cost of Vicodin (acetaminophen/hydrocodone) without prescription is $126 for 100 pills, whereas the street value is around $5 for a single pill, almost four times more expensive. These high prescription and street prices can force people with opioid dependence or addiction to seek cheaper and more dangerous alternatives such as heroin.
Here are some more examples of prescription opioid drug costs without insurance vs. street costs.
Cost of prescription opioid vs. street value
Cost without insurance per pill/patch
Street price per pill/patch
Fentanyl patch (25mcg/hr)
Suboxone film (8mg)
A person using a fentanyl patch once a day will have a yearly bill of $3,431 if buying without insurance; and $14,600 per year if purchased from the street. As a person uses it for a prolonged period of time, tolerance is likely to develop, meaning they will require more fentanyl to get the same effect, making the cost of maintaining a dependence or addiction considerably higher. This can pressure people with opioid painkiller addictions to turn to cheaper alternatives like street drugs.
The cost of heroin addiction
Heroin prices, on average, have continued to drop from approximately $168 per gram in 2006 to $152 in 2016, with a gram typically being spread out into 15 bags. However, the potency of heroin has increased, as it is often cut with other substances by drug manufacturers, such as fentanyl, which is a more potent opiate.  As a result, a “baggie,” a single-use or small dose, can cost as little as $5-$20.
To put this number into context, people with severe heroin addiction report using between 10 and 15 baggies of the drug per day. This puts the cost of heroin addiction at between $440 and $1,700 per week, up to $92,000 per year, depending on location.
The cost of Marijuana addiction: medical vs. street value
Marijuana has become legalized for medical and recreational purposes in many states across the U.S. While medicinal use has changed public perception of marijuana, with most people thinking it isn’t particularly addictive, the drug still has an effect on the brain, and abusing it can cause tolerance, dependence, and ultimately addiction.
The legalization and increased popularity of marijuana has led to “designer” or high-grade options becoming prevalent. This has led the price of marijuana to rise faster than inflation, with cheaper alternatives to high-grade marijuana becoming desirable for those who can’t afford it.
For those with a medical marijuana card, the price of an ounce ranges between $200 and $400, and up to $60 for a gram. The street cost of marijuana varies depending on location, availability, and demand. Here are some average prices by state to give a clearer indication of the variance in price (per ounce):
California: $193 for low-grade/$256 for high-grade
Washington D.C: $377/$596
New York: $239/$338
As an average of marijuana smoking practices, pipes and bongs contain the least amount of marijuana, followed by joints and blunts (blunts hold 2.5 times more marijuana than pipes). An average ounce of weed yields 28 blunts, 42 joints, and around 70 bowls for a pipe or bong. This means someone who smokes an average of four joints a day can expect to spend anywhere between $5,000 and $14,000 per year on marijuana. There are also other costs associated with marijuana use, such as edibles and concentrates like shatter.
The cost of cocaine addiction
The cost of cocaine hasn’t changed drastically in the past two decades, with the average price (adjusted for inflation) staying level at around $93 per gram. However, the potency and purity of the drug have vastly increased, meaning the average price for purer cocaine has risen from $126 to $165 per gram between 2006 and 2016. Of course, this cost will vary from location to location, with the World Drug Report estimating that prices for a gram of cocaine will range from $25-$200, with an average price of $112. With increased potency comes a higher likelihood for an addiction to form, as physical dependence can develop more readily.
The rates at which people abuse cocaine vary wildly, meaning putting a fixed yearly spend on the substance is difficult. Some severe addicts can use up to five grams a day, putting their annual spending at around $170,000, making cocaine a very expensive drug.
The cost of crack addiction
Crack cocaine, often referred to as “crack” or “rock,” is the crystalized form of cocaine. It is less pure than powdered cocaine and produces a short yet intense high, which often costs significantly less. A Vice article published in 2016 placed the average cost of crack at $65 per gram, with an addiction costing around $225 per day in Canada. 
The cost of meth addiction
Methamphetamine, more commonly known as “meth” or “crystal meth,” is a stimulant that has shown to be four times more powerful than cocaine. Although the production times for manufacturing meth are longer and come at greater risk than cocaine, drug organizations can still generate more profit in a shorter amount of time.
A single hit of meth can cost as little as $5 and is often 100% pure. Due to it having one of the lowest street drug prices, in areas where meth abuse is most prevalent (rural America and the West), meth-related overdoses are reported at almost twice the rate of heroin overdoses. The average cost of a gram of meth varies between $20 and $60 depending on location and can reach as high as $500. Someone with a severe meth addiction may pay on average $12,800 to $38,300 per year.
Other drug prices
While the above substances are some of the most widely abused in the US, there are a range of other drugs that are commonly purchased on the street. See below for more information on:
The Cost of Addiction Treatment
According to reports conducted by NIDA, addiction costs the United States over $740 billion each year, with healthcare costs associated with illicit substance abuse totaling $11 billion per year. This does not include the cost of rehabilitating people with addiction. Drug detox, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation costs vastly less than the ongoing cost of addiction and can increase the user's chance of living a healthy life. They are also much cheaper than other alternatives that can arise from chasing a costly habit, such as bankruptcy or incarceration. For example, a methadone treatment plan may cost around $4,700 a year, while jail costs the state an average of $24,000.