Friday, April 18, 2008

The One Where I Rekindle The Drug War Debate

Over on the Reason blog, Jacob Sullum reports on the latest government survey on drug use from the National Survey On Drug Use and Health. What may be surprising to some isn't all that surprising to me- drugs are not the demon substances they're made out to be and the negative consequences of addiction are limited to a small number of users. Here are some relevant numbers from the survey:

Dependence Rates Within Two Years Of Initial Use:

Inhalants: 0.9%

Tranquilizers (nonmedical use): 1.2%

Psychedelics: 1.9%

Sedatives (nonmedical use): 2.4%

Painkillers (nonmedical use): 3.1%

Alcohol: 3.2%

Cocaine Powder: 3.7%

Stimulants (nonmedical use): 4.7%

Marijuana: 5.8%

Crack Cocaine: 9.2%

Heroin: 13.4%

Percentages of Year-Before-Last Initiates Not Using the Initiated Substance in the Past Year, by Substance: 2004-2006:

Crack 75.6%

Inhalants 72.6%

Heroin 69.4%

Sedatives(nonmedical use) 63.7%

Hallucinogens 61.5%

Stimulants (nonmedical use) 59.1%

Tranquilizers (nonmedical use) 58.8%

Cocaine (Not Including Crack) 57.5%

Pain Relievers (nonmedical use) 56.6%

Marijuana 42.4%

Alcohol 25.7%

For those who have seen my calls to legalize heroin as a sign of insanity, this survey shows that 1) 13.4% of first time heroin users were dependent within two years (and therefore 86.6% of first time heroin users were not dependent within two years) and 2) Of first time heroin users, 69.4% were not using the drug within the following year.

Take the numbers for what you will, but I'd love to see the study that can actually tell the story of a drug that ensnares unwitting users. As I've been saying for years now, the facts of drug use and abuse don't match our draconian law enforcement approach. It's not science or reason that sets the terms of our drug policy, but superstition and tradition.


Anonymous b.rose said...

i understand the basic argument that the govt. shouldn't tell people what's best for them. if someone wants to harm their body so be it.

but what about a study on the likelihood that someone's use of a specific drug increases the likelihood of them harming another person in some way? now i realize alcohol is legal and leads to countless driving fatalities and i realize the drug war results in many deaths, gang related etc. but is there any type of study relating to the likelihood of someone harming an innocent person because they're on, PCP for example? i don't have an informed opinion on the matter, just some food for thought.

12:31 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

As far as I know, there are no such studies. There are many studies that tie facts such as arrests and emergency room visits into drug use, however, every study of that sort that I've ever seen has been highly flawed. Generally, they tend to equate all drug use with abuse and intoxication, while holding alcohol use to a completely different standard.

I think regardless of how you looked at the numbers, the number of fatalities caused by individuals using alcohol would vastly outnumber the fatalities caused by users of all other drugs.

Most users of alcohol don't drive drunk, and even most alcohol abusers don't drive drunk. Similarly, as this study has shown, most drug users are not addicts, and similarly, I could guarantee that most drug abusers are not committing violent crimes.

Regardless though, one of my purposes in blogging about drugs and the drug war has been to end this "blame the substance" fantasy, what Jacob Sullum in his book, "Saying Yes: In Defense Of Drug Use" refers to as "voodoo pharmacology." Alcohol doesn't turn an otherwise sane, sober person into a deadly drunk driver- people do that themselves with the choices they make. Similarly, drugs don't turn a healthy, happy individual into a crazed violent drug addict. Drugs and alcohol make you high, get you intoxicated - sure, they might make an already volatile person even more volatile, but they won't change the personality of someone who's naturally relaxed and peaceful.

Yes, people high on drugs can commit crimes, the very same way drunk people can. But it's sort of like that old adage about guns- drugs don't hurt people- people hurt people through their own poor choices.

12:08 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

Wait a second big guy...aren't you the same person that always says not to trust surveys/studies from the government? Isn't this a bit hypocritical? You'll argue everything else but when a survey comes along that "supports" your claims, you jump on it.

Also, I don't see any totals of how many people were surveyed or who was even surveyed? Were 100 people asked or 10,000? And what kind of people were asked? Drug users who have already seeked helped/been in rehab or people who are currently using drugs? That's very important to note because if someone has already seeked help, then they obviously would say they aren't dependent, but they were at somepoint.

I see a lot of percentages, but there's no meaning behind any of them. I have so many questions for the people who did this study because they do not include any details. For someone who is very skeptical of studies, I'm surprised you jumped so quickly to use this one.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous b.rose said...

so basically you're trying to weigh the benefits of legalization: what you perceive as a discontinuation of an infringement on people's rights, also cost savings from stopping the war on drugs, and whatever other consequences are created by fighting the war on drugs...


costs of legalization: harm to the user, more importantly potential harm to others caused by people under the influence and lastly definite negative effects on overall productivity in the country and also you can be certain in this country we'd incur substantial costs in trying to treat many more people who become dependent, or people who OD and end up in the ER.

so i guess a study that concludes that drugs aren't as harmful as society likes to think is significant, it's only a tiny piece of the picture.

i think the costs incurred by people other than the user would be extraordinarily high if we allowed hardcore drugs to further proliferate; whether it be rehab costs, health care, or less quantifiable things like physical harm and destruction of property.

2:55 PM  

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