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by Peter Moskos

June 14, 2008

Legal drugs kill more people than illegal drugs

Damien Cave writes a very interesting story in the New York Times.

In Florida, which is apparently the only state that keeps good track of these things, the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs is three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.

Out of 168,900 deaths statewide, legal opioids (such as Vicodin and OxyContin) caused 2,328 deaths. Drugs with benzodiazepine (such as Valium and Xanax), led to 743 deaths.

Cocaine killed 843, methamphetamine killed 25, and heroin was found in the bodies of 110 people who died. Marijuana and ecstasy, of course, killed nobody. That last figure shouldn’t surprise you. If it does, you’ve been bamboozled by lies and the lying prohibitionist liars who tell them.

Alcohol was judged to cause 466 deaths.

I’m not certain what this all means. I’ve been told by many of my students--particularly white students from the suburb--that the abuse of prescription drugs is a huge problem. But from both my personal and police experience, prescription drug abuse is all but foreign to me.

When my wife had emergency heart surgery in 2006, a doctor prescribed me Vicodin. Supposedly this was to treat the not-so-horrible pain I had in a hang-nail caused pinky infection. Really. But really he was just being kind, in a Californian kind of way. So I took a pill. With red wine. The wine part was definitely not recommended by the doctor. But it was on the advice of a friend of mine who does know something about the recreational misuse of prescription pain killers. It did nothing for me. A day or two later I took another pill. Or was it two? Then I gave up. It wasn’t for me. I really don’t understand how pain killers fall in the pleasurable category. But that’s just me.

But, as Ali G would say, I digest. Regarding drug deaths in Florida, a few thoughts come to mind:

1) Why are we so worried about illegal drug abuse when a bigger problem is right in front of us? But also, why are so many people dying from regulated drugs? I’ve always argued that regulation prevents overdoses. Doesn’t it?

2) At least there’s almost no violence around the prescription drug trade. Overdoses aren’t good, but at least doctors and Valium addicts aren’t shooting each other. Drug abuse should be the concern of the individual, the family, and the health care system.

3) Through health issuance and prescription plans, employers and the government are subsidizing middle-class drug abuse. Tell Rush Limbaugh and your right-wing friends that, the next time they complain about their tax dollars supporting crack addicts.

[Though in the interest of fairness, tell your liberal friends the un-politically correct truth that a whole lot of crack is bought when the welfare (and social security and disability) checks come out every month.]

4) If you think race and class aren’t a key part of the war on drugs, ask yourself why we are so quick to demonize and lock up poor people and the same time we offer sympathy and treatment to people who have the money and connections to get addicted to prescription drugs?

[If more poor people had good relations with doctors and cheap prescription drug coverage, they’d probably be very happy to abuse legal drugs. Hell, if more poor people had good health care coverage, many wouldn’t need to abuse any drug at all.]

5) If prohibition and incarceration are the answers to our drug problem, why don’t we use the same approach to fight prescription drug abuse? Medical necessity? Next time you pop a Viagra, tell yourself it’s more medically necessary than an emancipated chemo patient smoking a joint. Isn’t Viagra the definition of a recreational drug?


Mitch said...

I'm sure that legal drugs are much more commonly used than illegal drugs, so it's reasonable that legal drugs would play a role in more deaths. If (say) legal drugs are a thousand times safer than illegal drugs, they'll still cause more deaths if two thousand times more people use them.

The real number you want, I think, is the rate of deaths from legal and illegal drugs (divide the numbers you mentioned by the number of people using each of those drugs). That denominator is probably tough to measure, though. Still, one could come up with some estimates.

PCM said...

But are legal drugs abused that much more than legal drugs? Maybe. It is indeed hard to figure out what the denominator should be.

And though I understand that statistical importance of "rate," maybe it doesn't matter. After all, the rate of death from marijuana and ecstasy is zero, and they're still illegal.

drug rehab new york said...

Truly, in this case, the devil is in the details. Our forceful war on illegal drugs (as much as on terror) brought myopic people to believe that with our violent methods, we can eliminate substance abuse.