We Asked Drug Addicts How Much Their Habit Costs Them
The actual dollar cost of addiction for an individual can be catastrophic.
Cocaine (photo via Flickr user Valerie Everett)
In her teens and 20s, Jennifer was making up to $3,700 USD a week stripping in Ottawa, Canada. Almost all of it went to cocaine.
"The effort I put into spending money on drugs, it's not even calculable," Jennifer, now 47, told VICE. "It's an extraordinary amount. I would be a millionaire."
These days, she's living on social assistance.
"I don't have two cents to rub together."
According to a 2002 study by the Canadian Center for Substance Abuse, the "societal cost" of substance abuse, in terms of health care and the criminal justice system, is about $30 billion USD.
For an individual, the price of maintaining an addiction can be devastating, with some relying on crime and prostitution to pay for their drugs of choice, and losing their health, homes, freedom, and families along the way.
VICE reached out to several current and former addicts to ask what their addictions have cost them. (All the costs below have been converted to USD.)
Jennifer started stripping illegally at the age of 14 in Calgary before moving back to Ottawa to continue her career. By 16, she was addicted to coke.
"All the other girls were doing it. It got you through the night, you could just do line after line."
Her addiction grew in her early 20s, when she said all of her money—$1,500 to $3,700 per week—went to supporting her habit. Depending on how much money she was making, she'd spend between $450 to $1,200 a day.
"I would probably sleep from 3 or 4 AM until around 1 PM, and the rest of the time I was doing cocaine."
That routine continued until she was about 29.
"At that point, I guess I was too old just to keep stripping, and my drug addiction was too far gone," she said. "I started in prostitution."
Picking johns up off the street, Jennifer said she was pocketing about a grand a night. She started injecting cocaine because the high was "more intense" and continued to snort it as well as smoke crack.
She also began trafficking crack cocaine to pay for drugs, which, along with prostitution and fraud convictions, has landed her seven years in jail. About four years ago, she started shoplifting groceries.
"It was mostly meats and cheeses," she said, adding there is "a lot" of money in black market meat.
"Say a roast is $25, you're getting about $12... You're stealing about 16 a day."
For the last two years, Jennifer has tried to stop doing cocaine, although she told VICE she still has relapses. She also does harm reduction outreach and works with women who've been victims of violence; she recently testified in court against a man she said raped her.
These days, Jennifer is living on social assistance and trying not to commit any crimes, though the temptation is still there.
"I was thinking about it this just morning," she told VICE. "I ran into a friend of mine, and she was saying how much stuff she has and how good she's gotten at shoplifting... and I just turned around and walked away."
Hydromorphone. Photo via Flickr user The.Comedian
Prescription Opioids (Hydromorphone)
Cost: $3 for a 4 mg pill
At 43, Sean LeBlanc lives in a small apartment in Ottawa with his girlfriend. Though he has a great job and a steady relationship, "it still hurts to think" that he could be living in a house right now, were it not for his crippling opioid addiction, he said.
LeBlanc told VICE he started using hydromorphone (brand name Dilaudid), a fast-acting and potent painkiller, after his pregnant girlfriend overdosed and drowned in a bathtub nine years ago. At the time, he was a mature student at St. Thomas University and a DJ in Fredericton.
A week after she died, "a guy give me this Dilaudid all loaded up in a rig, and it was exactly what I wanted," he said. "It made me feel nothing."
But the effects of Dilaudid wear off after five or six hours. Within a couple of weeks, LeBlanc said he was physically hooked on the drug and dope sickness had kicked in. He needed more to get high—instead of putting one pill "in a spoon," it took five to get the same feeling. At the peak of his addiction, he said he was doing 160 mg a day, which sometimes meant injecting himself up to 40 times.
"If I didn't spend $100 a day, it was a good day," he said.
He said he stopped attending classes, got kicked out of school, and lost his jobs, eventually resorting to stealing from large chain stores.
LeBlanc said aside from weed and a very occasional dose of methadone, he no longer uses harmful drugs. He does outreach work for fellow addicts.
He told VICE a "conservative estimate" of how much he's spent on opioids is $200,000, and that's not including the cocaine, alcohol, and LSD he was also consuming.
"It breaks my heart, even just thinking about it."
Rick Sproule, 58, started drinking when he was 12; by 16, he was a full-blown alcoholic.
During the most severe part of his addiction, he says he drank a bottle of rum (20–30 ounces) a day, plus around 20 beers.
"I used to make my own beer as well, so the party didn't stop," he told VICE. "I went downhill faster that way."
It being the 80s, he was making around $5/hr working as a cook and spending half of it on booze. He said the food industry "really lends itself to alcoholism and drug addiction."
While living in Vancouver, Sproule said he also became addicted to heroin. The cost was about $225/gram, and he began using up to $375 worth of it a day.
"It's very expensive," he told VICE. "It gets to the point where you have to do armed robberies and things just to keep using." (He said he's never done that.)
"I'm kind of a middle class guy. I had a family, I had a career, I had a [Registered Retirement Savings Plan]." That's all gone now.
"I spent $10,000 in four months."
Steven's first hit of crack, at age 16, was "incredible."
"It was serious right from the start," he told VICE.
As a teen, he said he'd spend about $60 for a gram of powdered cocaine and cook it with his friends. They would steal electronics and jewelry, and panhandle to pay for it.
As he got older, he took on labor jobs to support the habit, spending around $225 a day for three grams of pre-cooked crack.
He started shooting up hydromorphone to bring him down off crack highs and avoid "cocaine psychosis."
"When you smoke a lot of rock, you gotta find a way to chill yourself out, which is by shooting opioids, so you can sleep," he told VICE. Around seven years ago, he was diagnosed with HIV, which he contracted from using dirty needles; he said his brother is in the exact same situation. For a time, he was living on the streets, but he said he now receives a disability check of about $820 a month. He spends a couple hundred of that on crack, but he said he's slowed down his usage because he's "too tired."
"A lot of people blow their disability... check and get an 8-ball."
On crack alone, Steven said he's spent at least $150,000.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.