The economic cost of outpatient marijuana treatment for adolescents: findings from a multi-site field experiment



Aims  Despite recent advances in the economic evaluation of adult substance abuse treatment, information and basic research is lacking on the cost of adolescent substance abuse treatment. The present study conducted an economic cost analysis of several outpatient adolescent treatment approaches.

Design  The Cannabis Youth Treatment (CYT) study evaluated five structured treatments for cannabis-using adolescents. One of the approaches was implemented by all of the four geographically and institutionally diverse treatment facilities collaborating in CYT; each of the other four approaches was implemented in two of the sites. Using the Drug Abuse Treatment Cost Analysis Program (DATCAP), the economic cost of each site-specific treatment was determined.

Findings  The average economic costs of the five types of outpatient treatments ranged from $837 to $3334 per episode, and varied by both direct factors (e.g. hours of treatment, treatment retention) and indirect factors (e.g. cost of living, staff level, case-load variation).

Conclusions  These adolescent treatment cost estimates are examined in terms of their calculation, variability by condition, variability by site within condition and comparability with previous DATCAP results from outpatient drug-free programs for adults. Future research will integrate treatment outcomes and costs to complete cost-effectiveness and benefit–cost analyses of the five therapies.