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Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations - A Research-Based Guide

Is providing drug abuse treatment to offenders worth the financial investment?

In 2007, it was estimated that the cost to society of drug abuse was $193 billion (National Drug Intelligence Center [NDIC], 2011), a substantial portion of which—$113 billion—is associated with drugrelated crime, including criminal justice system costs and costs borne by victims of crime. The cost of treating drug abuse (including health costs, hospitalizations, and government specialty treatment) was estimated to be $14.6 billion, a fraction of these overall societal costs (NDIC, 2011). Drug abuse treatment is cost effective in reducing drug use and bringing about related savings in health care. Treatment also consistently has been shown to reduce the costs associated with lost productivity, crime, and incarceration across various settings and populations. The largest economic benefit of treatment is seen in avoided costs of crime (incarceration and victimization costs). Providing methadone treatment to opioid-addicted prisoners prior to their release, for example, not only helps to reduce drug use but also avoids the much higher imprisonment costs for drug-related crime (see figure).

The largest economic benefit of treatment is seen in avoided costs of crime.

Even greater economic benefits result from treating offenders with co-occurring mental health problems and substance use disorders. Residential prison treatment is more cost effective if offenders attend treatment postrelease, according to research (Martin et al. 1999; Butzin et al. 2006). Drug courts also convey positive economic benefits, including participant-earned wages and avoided incarceration and future crime costs.

This graphic shows the cost of methadone treatment averages
around $5,000 a year, compared to
approximately $24,000 for State and Federal
prisons to keep people confined.Incarcerated women have high rates of substance abuse, mental disorders, and other health problems.
*Note: Graph shows lifetime percentages except for multiple drugs, alcohol, and cocaine, which are the percentage reporting use in the 30 days prior to incarceration. (N=60)

This page was last updated April 2014