The Drug War Chronicle’s lead story this week is an important one:
Drug Overdoses Deaths Are Going Through the Roof — Is Anybody Watching?
According to a little noticed January report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses killed more than 33,000 people in 2005, the last year for which firm data are available. That makes drug overdose the second leading cause of accidental death, behind only motor vehicle accidents (43,667) and ahead of firearms deaths (30,694).
What’s more disturbing is that the 2005 figures are only the latest in such a seemingly inexorable increase in overdose deaths that the eras of the 1970s heroin epidemic and the 1980s crack wave pale in comparison. According to the CDC, some 10,000 died of overdoses in 1990; by 1999, that number had hit 20,000; and in the six years between then and 2005, it increased by more than 60%.
Now let’s consider a couple of other relevant bits of information.
- Criminal laws and enforcement related to drug offenses have continued to increase, and there has been an explosion in prisoners doing time for drugs.
- The government tells us that there has been a strong decline in use of illicit drugs
If you took these facts and presented them to an intelligent friend who somehow had no knowledge of the drug war:
- Fewer users More arrested
- More dying from overdoses
… then your friend would probably say: “Your drug war sucks!”
But, of course, we know that.
Everything about our drug war makes drugs more dangerous. We crack down on marijuana and cocaine and push people to other drugs that are more dangerous. We deny harm reduction techniques and people die. We make people afraid to get help and they die. We deny them critical information and they die. We use coerced treatment or incarceration to make people quit and when they’re released their bodies have an altered tolerance and they die.