Our Opinion: Substance abuse costs everyone

The consequences of illegal drug use are not confined to abusers who occupy a distant realm.

A vast majority of crimes — with costs of enforcement and incarceration — are linked to drug and alcohol abuse.

Additional data disclosed in an Associated Press story published Tuesday show explosions resulting from the manufacture of methamphetamines are swelling health care costs and resulting in closure of some burn units.

Meth, the common name for methamphetamines, is a highly addictive, illegal drug. Making meth is a perilous process of combining dangerous ingredients. An increasingly popular approach is called shake and bake, which creates the chemical reaction in a plastic bottle.

Although shake and bake is more simple, it also is more volatile, resulting in more frequent explosions in closer proximity to shaker.

Hospitals in high meth-producing states, including Missouri, are treating more patients with severe burns, disfigurement and blindness.

What does this mean for people far removed from the meth trade?

Answers are contained in the AP’s survey of key hospitals in the most active meth states. Findings include:

• Up to a third of patients treated in some burn units were injured while making meth, and most were uninsured.

• The average treatment costs $6,000 a day, and the average meth patient’s hospital stay costs $130,000.

• At least seven burn units in the U.S. have closed during the past six years, partially because of consolidation but also because of the cost of treating uninsured patients.

The consequences of a single process associated with illegal drugs are rippling through all aspects of society.

Although precise costs cannot be quantified, burn experts agree the annual costs to taxpayers of meth-making accidents are well into the tens of millions of dollars, if not the hundreds of millions.

Those costs translate into millions of reasons why we all have a stake in efforts to prevent substance abuse and addiction.

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