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Hospital Costs and Impacts of Substance Use

Hospital Costs

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Why substance use costs to hospitals are a concern

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Substance abuse is a serious and increasingly costly health issue in Canada. The cost of hospitalizing people with substance use disorders (SUDs) increased 22% over five years to $267 million in 2011 from $219 million in 2006, according to CCSA’s report on SUDs and hospital use. Alcohol was the substance most responsible, costing 54% of the total cost of SUD-related hospital stays.

In 2011, those aged 45–64 collectively stayed the most days in hospital on account of alcohol; 25–44 year olds stayed the most days for opioids; and 15–24 year olds stayed the most days for cannabis. The number of days stayed in hospital because of cocaine decreased significantly over the five years studied (-48%), whereas the days stayed for alcohol (+8%), opioids (+48%) and cannabis (+39%) increased.

Hospital costs by substance in 2011 in descending order were:

  • Alcohol: $145 million

  • Opioids: $15 million

  • Cannabis: $14 million

  • Cocaine: $13 million ​​

​​​A comprehensive list of hospital costs by substances can be found in the 2014 report, The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Hospital Use​​.

Very conservative estimates: These numbers only account for the small proportion of Canadians admitted to a hospital bed with the primary diagnosis of a substance use disorder requiring treatment for the severe and direct harms associated with substance use such as acute intoxication, convulsions or withdrawal symptoms. The statistics above do not include the costs of those admitted to hospital for accidents or injuries that happened as a result of alcohol or other drug use, those seeking help at emergency departments who were not admitted to beds, or those seeking help from community treatment facilities or outpatient services.​

​Addressing substance use disorders to minimize hospital costs

The findings of this report highlight the need for education, prevention and early intervention.​​​​​​

Tools such as the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral​ online resource, which CCSA developed in partnership with the College of Family Physicians of Canada, support health professionals in detecting and addressing harmful alcohol consumption among their patients and intervening before a substance use disorder reaches a level requiring hospitalization.

Reducing the costs to hospitals of alcohol use also requires a willingness to change policies related to alcohol pricing, marketing and accessibility. CCSA will continue studying the health impacts of marijuana and monitoring any proposed law changes that would affect its legal status and availability.

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