According to the findings of the latest report released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) in collaboration with the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), lost productivity cost the Canadian economy $49.1 billion in 2020. 

Moreover, the cost of substance abuse for Canadian employers due to lost productivity was estimated at $589 per person, totalling $22.4 billion for one year. Furthermore, these figures include the value of work lost due to premature deaths and long- and short-term disability related to substance abuse.

Specifically, the report examined four main categories of substance use costs, including lost productivity (45.6% of the total costs), healthcare costs ($13.4 billion  or 27.4% of the total costs, criminal justice costs ($10 billion  or 20.3% of the total costs), and other direct costs ($3.3 billion or 6.7% of the total costs).

“The fact that lost productivity was the leading category of costs shows that substance use is not just a healthcare issue,” said Dr. Adam Sherk, a scientist at CISUR and a researcher for the study in a statement published on the CCSA website. “Employers can support their employees by developing supportive substance use policies and investing in prevention, harm reduction and treatment programs.”

This latest report is the third update in the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms project, with previous versions released in 2018 and 2020. Additionally, the report found that alcohol accounted for over 40% of the total costs by substance at $19.7 billion, while the costs of alcohol and tobacco changed over time. Specifically, the costs of alcohol use increased by 21%, while per-person costs of tobacco use decreased by 20%. Finally, opioid use cost the Canadian economy $7.1 billion in 2020, which is the highest value compared to two previous reports; approximately 75% of these costs were related to lost productivity and, more specifically, overdose-related deaths at an early age.

“There were nearly 74,000 deaths due to substance use in 2020, which was nearly 200 lives lost each day. Alcohol and tobacco account for over 85% of deaths alone,” said Emily Biggar, CCSA Research and Policy Analyst and a researcher on the project. “Our estimates show not only how substance use affects the healthcare and criminal justice systems but also the ability of people in Canada to work and contribute to the economy. Initiatives across the spectrum of prevention, harm reduction and treatment are needed to improve the health and productivity of people in Canada.”

The report findings also demonstrated that the per-person cost of substance use increased by 11.8%, from $1,154 in 2007 to $1,291 in 2020.

Per-person costs of opioids and stimulants increased the most of all substances since 2007, which, according to the authors, is the effect of an increasingly toxic unregulated drug supply and the number of harms related to drug poisoning.

However, the per-person cost of cannabis decreased by 9.1% between 2018 and 2020 following the legalization of its recreational use. Specifically, the reduction in costs during the last three years was due to reduced criminal justice costs.

According to the Human Resource Director Canada magazine, some of the common signs of substance abuse in the workplace can include frequent absences, changes in mood or behaviour, missed deadlines, financial problems, and declining physical hygiene.