Study: Substance misuse cost Alaska about $3.5 billion

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JUNEAU, Alaska Substance misuse in Alaska has cost the state about $3.5 billion in 2018 in resulting health care, productivity loss, criminal justice, traffic accidents and other services, a yearlong study said.

The McDowell Group, contracted by the state Mental Health Trust Authority, found that $2.4 billion was related to alcohol abuse and $1.1 billion was related to drug abuse, Juneau Empire reported Friday.

Health officials define substance misuse as the use of illegal drugs or inappropriate use of alcohol or prescription drugs.

“We see the impact of substance misuse every hour of every day in our ER,” said Bradley Grigg, the chief behavioral health officer at Bartlett Regional Hospital. “The cost is enormous. From alcohol to opiates to methamphetamine to other substances, we are seeing the effects of substance misuse in every part of our hospital.”

Alaska residents consumed 14 million gallons of beer, 2.4 million gallons of wine, and 1.8 million gallons of liquor during the one-year survey period, the study said.

About 22,000 residents who reported using illegal drugs in the previous year were also surveyed. Of those surveyed, 14,000 reported using cocaine, 5,000 reported using methamphetamine and 3,000 reported using heroin, the study said. Marijuana was not part of the survey because it is legal in state.

“The majority of calls we go on are related to drugs and alcohol,” Juneau Police Lt. Krag Campbell said.

Drug and alcohol can lead to interactions with law enforcement and emergency services, and driving while impaired can lead to arrests and crashes, which each have associated costs, Campbell said.

Health care costs was the highest associated cost for substance misuse at $1.3 billion, the study said.

“Substance misuse treatment is a really big piece of what we do and who we are,” Grigg said about the hospital. “We recognize the need and the need is overwhelming.”