Alcohol and Drug abuse costs Alaska $3B a year, according to new report

Published: Mar. 29, 2017 at 5:30 PM AKDT
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The economic impact of drug and alcohol abuse in Alaska exceeds $3 billion a year, according to a new report by the independent research firm the McDowell Group.

Both the McDowell Group and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority are in Juneau this week to present the numbers to state lawmakers.

“I think what’s really important is that everyone is aware what the costs is out there and that we can reduce the cost of alcohol abuse simply by being more aware of it,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz. “Then providing some prevention and then providing appropriate treatment services to people when they are ready.”

According to the report, the economic costs of alcohol abuse in Alaska is $1.8 billion.

The main drivers for that high cost is productivity loss and traffic collisions, two factors Spohnholz said could be avoided. '

It’s the same story for drug abuse, which cost $1.22 billion a year annually both in the private and public sector.

“The impacts of alcohol and drug abuse are felt across the entire economy,” said Jeff Jessee with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

Although the state is facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, Jessee hopes providing the information will push legislators to allocate more resources for prevention and treatment efforts.

“Today we cannot provide treatment for example every parent involved with the office of child services that needs treatment in order to become sober,” said Jessee.

Jessee says one solution could be an increase in the alcohol sales tax, something that hasn’t been touched in the state legislature since 2002.

“That’s a 40 million dollar tax to try and deal with a $1.8 billion problem,” he said in front of the Senate’s Health and Social Services committee Wednesday.

Currently there are no bills being discussed in the legislature that address increasing the alcohol sales tax.

Governor Bill Walker proposed an increase in 2015 but it did not make it out of committee.