Really bad science in New Zealand

Now, it’s not just New Zealand that uses really bad science when it comes to the drug war, but it sure seems like that little country shows up disproportionately, (although a lot of that is attributed to the outrageously bad research coming from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, usually involving poor conclusions from inadequate samples).
What caught my attention this time was this article, which dramatically noted that cannabis causes over $30 million in hospital bills each year in New Zealand.
Oh? I was trying to figure out what could possibly cause all those costs. In my experience, cannabis users tended to make more trips to 7-11 than to the emergency room. In fact, while I’ve personally accompanied some idiots to the emergency room who didn’t know how to drink alcohol, I’ve never known a single person to go to the hospital for marijuana use.
So I was looking for the particular study referenced. While I didn’t find that particular one, I found a related study that explored all the social costs of all illicit drugs in New Zealand: New Zealand Drug Harm Index (pdf)
If you want some geeky entertainment, try going through this entire document and note all the outrageous assumptions made and bizarre notions for calculating “social costs.”
This study considers the costs to society of illegal drug use to include

  • All costs of producing and selling the drugs
  • All crime costs related to drugs
  • All enforcement costs related to drugs, including customs, police, criminal courts, prisons, community sentences, preventative expenditures, etc.
  • Not only the prison costs, but the lost output of prisoners!
  • All health costs related to drugs
  • The lost output of drug users who died early
  • Pain and suffering related to drug use

… you get the idea. It goes on and on.
The study also bizarrely computes a potential “savings” to society for all drug seizures based on the assumed lack of societal costs that would otherwise be attributed to those drugs.
Here are some quotes that made my head explode:

The costs estimated using the prevalence approach are then compared to a counterfactual situation, in this case where no illicit drugs were ever used. That is, in order to determine the harm avoided by reducing drug consumption we compare the current situation with drug use to a hypothetical case where there is no harmful drug use. […]
[T]his study assumes that illicit drug consumption is abusive and imposes a social cost. Therefore, all resources diverted by illicit drug consumption are regarded as social costs. […]
One input to the drug harm model is an estimate of the ëadditional‰ or ëmissing‰ population who would currently be alive were it not for the deaths caused in the past by illicit drugs. Essentially, this involves estimating the population that would have existed in 2005/06 based on the modified mortality rates assuming no drug use in the past. […]
Drug-attributable mortality causes a reduction in society‰s productive capacity that society could have benefited from in the counterfactual case (a world without illicit drug use). This cost is a function of how many people die prematurely due to drug use and what those people could have earned. […]
As in Collins and Lapsley (2002) we assume that the probability of absenteeism is the same for tobacco use and illicit drug use. […]
In the absence of data on the production cost of illicit drugs in New Zealand, we follow the approach used by Collins and Lapsley (2002). They value the production cost of a drug as a fraction of its street price. This assumes that there is a significant risk premium factored into the price of illicit drugs and that the resource cost of the inputs would be lower in their best alternative legitimate use. The value of resources diverted is assumed to be five percent of the street price for all illicit drugs except for cannabis, opioids and methamphetamine produced from domestically sourced inputs. Cannabis is assumed to have a lower risk premium so the resource cost is equal to 25 percent of the street value. This approach is likely to yield a conservative estimate of the value of diverted inputs. […]
This study estimates costs for three health conditions that are recognised widely as affecting many drug users: depression, HCV and HIV/AIDS. […]
The value of travel delays was estimated by multiplying four components:

  • average length of time a vehicle is delayed by an accident
  • value of time per vehicle
  • traffic flow per hour – gives indications of how many vehicles would be involved when an accident happens
  • number of crashes in a particular year.

The study does not consider licit drugs such as legal party pills, such as benzylpiperazine (BZPs). Nor does it include harm from other legally available substances such as alcohol or tobacco. […]
Incarceration poses a further cost due to the lost output of inmates. Lost output estimates were calculated on the basis of the age and gender profile of inmates jailed due to drug use, and totalled $38.4 million. […]
This study uses a value of $106,600 per year of life lost due to the premature mortality of drug users, and drug-related homicides and road accident fatalities. […]

Again, you get the idea. This is a study designed to find everything you could possibly invent and manipulate to conceivably be a cost related to drugs. You could take the same damn study and change the word “drugs” to “prohibition” and it would make a whole lot more sense (but still be ridiculous).
What is the value of such a detailed time-intensive waste of time?

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