WASHINGTON — Alcoholism and alcohol abuse cost the nation as much as $117 billion a year in lost productivity and medical bills, an anti-alcoholism conference has been told.
Thomas R. Burke, chief of staff to Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen, noted that the figure is more than five times as high as the $23 billion in savings that the Reagan Administration and congressional leaders needed to achieve in the recent budget summit.
"Much of this comes out of the Treasury in one way or another," Burke said in a speech at the conference here recently. "I'm talking about Medicaid payments, health-care payments, family-support payments, funds for the homeless and the like."
Burke said $92.8 billion of the total cost "represents products, goods and services never produced, never delivered" because of alcohol-related problems.
"These hidden costs represent the economic stagnation caused by reduced productivity, premature loss of life, employment lost by victims of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and incarceration of criminals," he said.
About $15 billion of the total is for direct medical costs, according to the HHS. The rest is for various indirect and social welfare costs.
Bowen convened the meeting to launch several projects, including speedier transfer of research findings to treatment programs, more clinical training, new public assistance and employee assistance programs, advertising programs and possible health warnings on alcoholic beverage containers.
Enoch Gordis, director of HHS' National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said in an interview that the $117 billion figure was computed for 1983 by the Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina.
Lost productivity includes loss due to premature death or illness of workers as a result of alcohol, financial impact on labor benefit plans and added costs of courts, police work and the like.