Monday, June 16, 2008

Legal and Illegal Drug Deaths

It's long been known that legal drugs (including prescriptives) kill far more people than illegal drugs. As this study from Florida indicates, it may be even larger than we thought.

An analysis of autopsies in 2007 released this week by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs was three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.

The report’s findings track with similar studies by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which has found that roughly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. If accurate, that would be an increase of 80 percent in six years and more than the total abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants.

The Florida report analyzed 168,900 deaths statewide. Cocaine, heroin and all methamphetamines caused 989 deaths, it found, while legal opioids — strong painkillers in brand-name drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin — caused 2,328.

Drugs with benzodiazepine, mainly depressants like Valium and Xanax, led to 743 deaths. Alcohol was the most commonly occurring drug, appearing in the bodies of 4,179 of the dead and judged the cause of death of 466 — fewer than cocaine (843) but more than methamphetamine (25) and marijuana (0).

The study also found that while the number of people who died with heroin in their bodies increased 14 percent in 2007, to 110, deaths related to the opioid oxycodone increased 36 percent, to 1,253.

Throw in deaths related to nicotine and smoking and you have a staggering number of people who die every year from dugs readily available and legal far outstripping those prohibited.

Of course, drug legalization opponents might argue that deaths related to Schedule 1 narcotics may be as low as they are simply because the substances are illegal. Were drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine readily available, we might see a massive increase in drug-related deaths.

Legalization proponents, however, make the case that most prohibited drug-related deaths are caused by the adulteration of the substance, rather than overdoses. Legalization might provide better control over the purity of the substance and actually reduce deaths.

In the ongoing debate over the War on Drugs and its efficacy, these numbers add grist for the mills of both sides. But one thing remains clear: be it legal or illegal in nature, we are as drug-addicted a society as we've ever been.


Phil BC said...

Sorry for taking so long to realise you've linked to me! I've returned the favour :)

Antoine Lockhart said...

The issue on drugs is just so tiring. I hope that companies offering recovery companion services would exist until this crisis goes away.