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by Peter Moskos

August 18, 2009

The Failed Drug War: Overdose Deaths

Here's a good example:

The Netherlands has about 120 drug overdose deaths per year. This is a rate of 0.75 per 100,000.

Meanwhile the US, with all our money and prisons and police and people who wish to "send the right message" has this problem:
The mortality rates from unintentional drug overdose (not including alcohol) have risen steadily since the early 1970s, and over the past ten years they have reached historic highs. Rates are currently 4 to 5 times higher than the rates during the “black tar” heroin epidemic in the mid-1970s and more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine in the early 1990s. The rate shown for 2005 translates into 22,400 unintentional and intentional drug overdose deaths. To put this in context, just over 17,000 homicides occurred in 2005.
That's a rate just under 7 per 100,000. So if we adopted dutch policies toward drugs (the dutch rate wasn't always so low, by the way) and could get our rate down to that seen in the Netherlands, we could save close to 20,000 lives per year. But we choose not to.

Somehow, according to prohibitionists, saving lives sends the wrong message. "If drugs don't kill, how will people know they're bad?!" I've heard the argument many times. It's pretty dumb. First of all, if drug don't kill, they're not so bad. Second, since our drugs do kill, why do we still lead the world in drug abuse?

How do you save lives? Some of it is shockingly simple. For starters:

1) Give out Narcan.

2) Pass good Samaritan laws protecting those who call ambulances for people who overdose.

3) Treat drug abuse like a health problem.


BG said...

What was the Dutch rate before legalization vs after? How long did it take to come down? I'm personally skeptical that we could get our numbers that low. At the same time, we would likely see a reduction in mortality and a decrease in our costs (health and enforcement). Not to mention, we'd stop waging war on our own populous.

Antinomian said...

Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One needn’t travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance credibility.

The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. In God’s eyes, it’s all good (Gen.1:12). The administration claims it wants to reduce demand for cartel product, but extraditing Canadian seed vendor Marc Emery increases demand. Mr. Emery enables American farmers to steal cartel customers with superior domestic product.

The constitutionality of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) derives from an interstate commerce clause. This clause is invoked to finance organized crime, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Official policy is to eradicate, not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land. America rejected prohibition, but it’s back. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

Nixon promised the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research. Marijuana has no medical use, period.

The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes the free exercise of religious liberty.

Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

Common-law must hold that adults own their bodies. The Founding Fathers decreed the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.

Simple majorities in each house could put repeal of the CSA on the president’s desk. The books have ample law on them without the CSA. The usual caveats remain in effect. You are liable for damages when you screw up. Strong medicine requires prescription. Employees can be fired for poor job performance. No harm, no foul; and no excuse, either. Replace the war on drugs with a frugal, constitutional, science-based drugs policy.

Frequent Poster said...

Ending the drug war will: (i) lower policemen's salaries; and (ii) mean that there will be less police.

Until these points are addressed directly, there will be no end to WoD.

campbell said...

Ending the drug war will: (i) lower policemen's salaries; and (ii) mean that there will be less police.

Around here, the narcs are a pretty small percentage of the officers in our metro PD. Maybe some of the other patrol guys can chime in, but most of the calls I go on are not drug related calls. A disproportionate number of certain types of crimes like home invasions and strongarm robberies I'd say are drug related. But I highly doubt that changes in the war in drugs would all of a sudden necessitate drastically reducing headcount in police departments. What it would mean is a change in priorities, and the ability to put those dollars and headcount towards other projects.

David Woycechowsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frequent Poster said...

Follow up questions for Campbell:

As a non-narc, what percentage of your arrests are for (or at least include) drug charges?

How would Compstat treat you if all your drug arrests suddenly disappeared?

As Sgt Crowley of the Cambridge PD is well aware, sometimes a non-drug call can turn into a drug bust.

10-8 said...

Here's some interesting news from the Netherlands:

"Holland scrapping liberal policies on drugs and brothels to clean up image."

"The Dutch are rethinking their famously liberal polices on legalised brothels, prostitution and soft drugs, such as magic mushrooms and cannabis, amid fears of growing crime and social decline."

"The nation's ideals are being tested by the reality they brought," said sociologist Dick Houtman of Rotterdam's Erasmus University. "The Netherlands went further in allowing all sorts of liberties than many other countries. The test is severe. There is a feeling that our tolerance is the principal cause of many of the problems we experience now."

Source: http://preview.tinyurl.com/6raboh

PCM said...

[Please don't double post your comments cause now I gotta do the same]

Those headlines always crack me up because the US loves printing stuff like that (also about the impending collapse of the Swedish welfare state--but I haven't seen any of those in the past year). They're simply not true. It's part of that conservative media bias.

There is *no* debate in Holland to scrap it's liberal laws regarding marijuana and prostitution. There have been debates about reducing the number of prostitute windows. And they've done that.

That's what you can do with you regulate. You can control. And *that* is exactly their point. The Dutch like control.

There has also been, over the past decade, a reduction in the number of coffee shops in Amsterdam. I think the number they picked that they want to have is 250. No problem there. And there is question, ever since a dumb tourist jumped out a window, if magic mushroom should be available over the counter. Best I know they still all.

So yes, there has been a little swing to the right in Holland over the past decade. And now there is legal prostitution and stores that sell marijuana and magic mushrooms and, as I've posted about, you can't flaunt your hard drugs at parties or you might get taken to a police station (but not arrested or charged).

So when you read that the nation's ideas are being tested, please keep in mind that even the most conservative dutch policy proposition would be considered liberal/socialist in the US.

And when they have problems, and they do, they tinker and fix and work hard to get things better. That's the part about Holland I love.

The bigger debate in Holland concern immigration (read: Muslim immigrants). That one thing--with our relatively open borders, our laissez faire attitude toward immigrants after they're here, and our constitutional right to citizenship for children born here--that's one thing I think the US does much better.

campbell said...

As a non-narc, what percentage of your arrests are for (or at least include) drug charges?

I've never seen patrol's stats broken down that way.(which is not to say it's not been done, but if it has they haven't passed it out at lineup or anything) I'd say I've done more arrests for domestic violence and public intoxication than I have for drug possession.

PCM said...

Public intoxication? You can lock people up for that? I didn't know that was still a crime.

I never arrested anybody for public intoxication. Disorder? Sure. Open container? Yes. But not public intoxication.

I'm not certain of my breakdown either, but I would guess domestics were highest (thanks to ineffective mandatory arrest laws), at least for low- to moderate- arrest officers.

But for total arrests where I worked, because of the high-arrest officers, I think drugs would be the majority (or at least drug-related).

campbell said...

"Public intox" is basically our "disorder".


"A person is guilty of intoxication if the person is under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or any substance having the property of releasing toxic vapors, to a degree that the person may endanger the person or another, in a public place or in a private place where the person unreasonably disturbs other persons."

I work the downtown zone that encompasses the homeless shelter, a number of bars and clubs, and one of the lovely State Liquor Stores that happens to be an easy walk from the shelter. We do far and away more public intox than other zones.

PCM said...

Well, I'll be!

10-8 said...

>the US loves printing stuff

It was a British newspaper.

>State Liquor Stores

Hmm sounds like we're in the same state. They're officially "Wine & Spirits" stores but everyone I know still calls them "the state store".