Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Lost Productivity Due to Substance Use Cost the Canadian Economy $22.4 billion: New Report

Substance Use Costs in Canada rose to $49.1 billion in 2020  

Ottawa, March 29, 2023 — Substance use cost the Canadian economy $49.1 billion in 2020. That’s a jump of more than $11 billion between 2007 and 2020 or nearly 12% in per-person costs.

The latest available data is part of the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms [CSUCH] 2007-2020 report released today by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) in partnership with the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR).

Lost productivity alone cost $22.4 billion or $589 per person in 2020. This includes the value of work lost due to premature deaths and long- and short-term disability.

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

The report analyses substance use costs by four key categories. In addition to lost productivity (45.6% of the total costs), healthcare costs accounted for $13.4 billion (27.4%). Criminal justice costs were $10 billion (20.3%), while other direct costs contributed $3.3 billion (6.7%). These figures illustrate how substance use issues can be found in many aspects of our everyday lives and that solutions are needed to address them.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Alcohol accounted for just more than 40% of the total costs by substance at $19.7 billion.
  • The costs of alcohol and tobacco use have diverged over time. Costs of alcohol use increased 21%, while per-person costs of tobacco use declined 20%.
  • Opioid use cost $7.1 billion in 2020 — the highest of any year examined. Nearly 75% of these costs were related to lost productivity and, more specifically, people dying at an early age from opioid use.
  • The per-person cost of substance use increased 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, reflecting the increasingly toxic unregulated drug supply and the number of harms related to drug poisoning.
  • The per-person cost of cannabis decreased 9.1% between 2018 and 2020 following the legalization of its recreational use. The decrease during the last three years was due to reduced criminal justice costs.

“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,” explained 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.”

This is the third update in the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harmsproject following releases in 2018 and 2020. CCSA and CISUR developed the CSUCH report to better understand the societal economic costs and harms associated with substance use in Canada. These regularly updated estimates can be used to prioritize relevant public policies, create initiatives to target the harms caused by substance use, identify information gaps, research needs and refinements to national data reporting systems; measure the impact of changing levels and patterns of substance use, and make changes to policy and societal responses to substance use.

More information, such as national, provincial and territorial breakdowns and an online data visualization tool, is available at  

Dr. Adam Sherk is a scientist with CISUR and a researcher with CCSA’s WHO/Pan-American Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Alcohol and Public Health Policy. His research focuses on substance use epidemiology and alcohol policy research. He created the International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policy, an alcohol research platform used by countries worldwide to estimate alcohol-caused harms. He has created or consulted on national alcohol harms monitoring projects in Australia, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand and the United States as well as Canada.  

Emily Biggar, MPH, is a research and policy analyst at CCSA. In addition to being a member of the CSUCH scientific working group, Biggar contributes to CCSA’s research on substance use trends by leading the implementation of the Community Urinalysis and Self-Report Project, a project focused on better understanding the use of drugs from the unpredictable toxic drug supply.  

CISUR (Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research), based at the University of Victoria, is a network of individuals and groups dedicated to the study of substance use and addiction in support of community-wide efforts to promote health and reduce harm. Their research is used to inform a broad range of projects, reports, publications and initiatives aimed at providing Canadians access to happier, healthier lives, whether they use substances or not. To learn more, visit

CCSA was created by an act of Parliament to provide national leadership to address substance use in Canada. A trusted counsel, CCSA provides guidance to decision makers by harnessing the power of research, curating knowledge and bringing together diverse perspectives. To learn more, visit  

Media Availability

Dr. Sherk is available for telephone, Zoom and on-camera interviews. He resides in Victoria, B.C.

To book an interview with Dr. Sherk, contact Amanda Farrell-Low ( or 250-472-5445).

Ms. Biggar is available for telephone, Zoom and on-camera interviews. She resides in Ottawa, Ont.

To book an interview with Ms. Biggar, contact Lee Arbon ( or 613-266-5469).

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