Thursday, August 20, 2009

Overdose Deaths

Call me crazy, but it seems to me that first priority of drug policy should be save lives. We all know about drug-related (ie: prohibition) violence, but shockingly little attention is paid to the 20,000 drug overdose deaths every year. That's a rate of just under 7 per 100,000.

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

So 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.
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.

[from Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood]

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