Opioid Resource Center

Opioid Resource Center

August 21, 2019
2 min read

Americans spend nearly $150 billion on illicit drugs each year

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Photo of Gregory Midgette
Gregory Midgette

In 2016, Americans spent $145 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, according to a new report.

Most spending is attributed to those who use drugs on a daily or almost daily basis, according to the report.

“It depends on the drug, but it's generally the case that the increases in expenditures we estimate are driven by increased consumption, not higher prices,” Gregory Midgette, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Maryland, told Healio Primary Care.

Researchers from the RAND Corporation used multiple databases to collect information on illicit drug users and amounts of drugs purchased, including Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services.

Person injecting drugs 
In 2016, Americans spent $145 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, according to a new report.
Source: Adobe Stock

The total amount spent on illicit drugs in the United States ranged from $120 billion to $145 billion each year.

Midgette and colleagues found that the amount spent on both illegal and legal cannabis increased 50% between 2006 and 2016, from $32 billion to $52 billion. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of individuals who used cannabis each month increased from 25 million to 32 million.

The combined size of the cocaine and methamphetamine markets was approximately the same size as the cannabis market, according to the report.

Although the amount of cocaine consumed declined after 2006, the decrease leveled off in 2015. In 2016, the price of cocaine dropped, and the amount of the drug consumed by consistent users rose.

The results also showed a significant growth in the use of methamphetamines, but researchers noted that more research is needed due limited information from national surveys regarding use of the drug.

According to the report, the retail heroin market was nearing the size of the cannabis market in 2016. Between 2010 and 2016, the amount of heroin consumed increased 10% each year. The risk for heroin use increased due to the introduction of fentanyl, according to the report.

Midgette told Healio Primary Care that risk for overdose has significantly increased among regions where fentanyl was added to cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, creating a significant burden to the health care system.

“Our estimates support the widely held belief that the opioid epidemic has led to increased heroin use in terms of expenditures and prevalence,” Midgette said. “We also highlight a latent concern about increased methamphetamine use. Local health care systems should pay close attention to diverse sources of data in their communities and have a plan to potentially confront both the opioid epidemic and increased illicit and illegal stimulant abuse.” – by Erin Michael


Midgette G, et al. What America's Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2006–2016. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR3140.html.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.