How Bad is Our Drug Problem?

Have you seen this report last month from the CDC?  Has anyone?

This 28-year study, which began in 1980, purports to show that death by poisoning is the leading cause of death from injury in the United States, and that 90 percent of these fatal poisonings are caused by drugs (both legal and illicit).  Opioid analgesics were involved in 40 percent of drug poising deaths in 2008. 2008 also marked the first year that more Americans died from poisoning than car crashes.

Is it just me, or are these staggeringly high numbers?  This isn’t a post about the usefulness or futility of that batch of policies and military actions known collectively as The War on Drugs.  But it might be a post about the glibness with which some so easily dismiss the notion of a drug problem in the US.

3 thoughts on “How Bad is Our Drug Problem?”

  1. The “key fact” provided by the CDC does not seem very informative. Is this the case because more people die from poisoning than in the past, or is it because fewer people die from other injuries than in the past? Fortunately, you don’t have to scroll down very far in the document to find an answer: it is both. Just eyeballing the graph, it looks like fatal drug overdoses increased from 3/100,000 persons to about 12 (same scale) between 1980 and 2008, while fatal motor vehicle accidents decreased from 23 to about 13 (same scale) over the same time period.

    So the real, scary, non-misleading headline is that fatal drug overdoses have increased four-fold in 28 years, with most of that increase over the more recent 8 years. Later, we see that almost all of that increase can be attributed to opiates.

    There are lots of patients who show up to Rachel’s practice with vague, unconfirmable pain and a very clear idea of how they would like to be treated, and who quickly find a new doctor when her opinion differs.

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  2. I don’t disagree about their being a problem with patients shopping around for opiates. The “drug problem” in question isn’t just about illegal drugs, but about misuse of legal ones or, perhaps, a larger problem with opiates in general.

    It’s good that car deaths have decreased by ten per hundred thousand. It’s bad that accidental drug deaths have filled that gap and then some. You’re right that the real headline should be the four-fold increase and the way that increase has moved in the last 8 years of the study.

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