Immoral Drug Addicts?

“Addicts choose to take drugs and are responsible for the harms caused by their decisions. Why should I or society pay for their actions?”

The sentiment that blames addicts for their own misery is pervasive in social media, especially in the comments sections of news stories which speak to the rise in overdose deaths caused by fentanyl and carfentanyl.

Let’s assume for a moment that all people who abuse psychoactive substances are responsible for the harms they cause themselves and others. Our publicly expressed resentment should require that we keep in mind that tobacco smokers, the obese and physically unfit pose a greater economic burden on Canadians than all other users of criminalized drugs.

Lifestyle Choices that Cost Canadians

According to research in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, “the economic burden attributable to excess weight, tobacco smoking and physical inactivity in Canada in 2013 is $52.8 billion“. Two of the three preventable health problems are seen as addictive behaviours (smoking and excess weight from over-eating) and physical inactivity is a “lifestyle choice”. Here’s the breakdown:

  • $23.3 billion (44.1%) attributable to excess weight,
  • $18.7 billion to tobacco smoking (35.4%) and
  • $10.8 billion (20.4%) to physical inactivity


Costs of Legal versus Illegal Drugs to Canadians

The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse reports that legal substances make up 79.3% of the total costs of drug abuse.


To assign to one group of drug users our moral condemnation and stigma while remaining largely silent about the majority who abuse more harmful but legal drugs is an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

We can reduce our irrational reactions to users of illegal drugs by recognizing that while drug addiction occurs as the result of choice, it’s little different from the “choice” made by those addicted to tobacco or high carbohydrate foods which cause obesity and heart disease. Hopefully this realization will make us more understanding and avoid treating illicit drug addicts like social pariahs deserving of our moral indignation.


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