More drug hysteria

Cocaine usage is up:

Cocaine is the second most popular drug in Britain, after cannabis, with its use increasing markedly in the past decade from 0.6% of 16- to 59-year-olds reporting use to the British Crime Survey to 2.4% in 2009-10. This is equivalent to nearly 800,000 people reporting that they have used it within the last year. Among those aged 16 to 24, the increase in use has been even sharper from 1.3% to 5.5% in 2009-10 – or about 367,000 teenagers and young adults.

What horrors, eh? So, how dangerous is it?

The number of people who died after taking cocaine in England and Wales rose by 20% last year.

Official statistics released today showed there were 235 deaths linked to cocaine abuse in England and Wales in 2008, compared with 197 people in 2007. The figures include deaths related to crack cocaine.

So, what, a one in 3,000 chance of it killing you?

So you\’d have to be taking it for a decade to equal the lifetime risk of death in a traffic accident?

The lifetime risk of dying in a transport accident is remarkably high – with most of the risk coming from road traffic accidents. While the risk of dying in a road accident in any year in the UK approaches 1 in 20,000, the lifetime risk is 1 in 240.

That\’s without even considering the dosage or the method of ingestion (I would assume crack is worse than cocaine).

It\’s hardly the sort of scary, scary, risk that justifies placing manufacture and distribution into the hands of the most violent thugs and criminals in our society, is it?

Quite apart from the probability that at least some of those deaths come not from the cocaine but from the impurities caused by the illegality.

10 thoughts on “More drug hysteria”

  1. A high percentage of drug deaths are caused by combining drugs (and often alcohol). The risks when taking just one drug are consequently lower.

  2. Who would have thought so many people could afford it, what with disposable income falling to 1921 levels ‘n all.

  3. It would be very interesting to see those 235 deaths broken down. To see how many were due to excess purity, or to insufficient purity. How many were accidents caused by use. How many were onlt tangentially related. How many were related to the criminality rather than toxicity of coke.

    This would be vital for putting together a coherent policy on the subject & for that reason, almost certainly won’t be done.

  4. “Not good, but we don’t ban nuts because some die this way from them.”

    Not in general, no. Several establishments and public areas do indeed ban nuts, though.

  5. Having worked in a road trauma unit, I would just add the caveat that if you are not:
    suicidal/drug affected/alcohol affected/watching TV while driving/driving between the hours of 1 and 5am/driving while sleep deprived, your risk would be have to be significantly – and I mean orders of magnitude – lower than that. The crazy things that go on in cars, you would not believe.

  6. “How many were related to the criminality rather than toxicity of coke.”

    Well cocaine has a different risk profile to injectable drugs like heroin. I don’t think purity is a major concern. It’s just a dangerous drug (occasionally). We still use it as a medical treatment in the operating theatre, in very carefully controlled doses, and there are well-documented cases of catastrophes even in this setting. It causes severe vasoconstriction, can drop coronary blood flow, massively elevate blood pressure…we have great respect for its effects and are ready to treat ill-effects with powerful antidotes.

  7. Does only death really measure the hazard of an activity?
    Could wasted opportunities or malfunctions of individuals not come into it?

  8. To be included in “died after taking cocaine”, doesn’t require toxicity, allergy, or criminal action. Just that cocaine is found to have been in your system at death, or the time of the lethal incident. Post hoc, nec propter hoc.

    If getting on for a million people use it with some regularity, mere coincidence in time could easily account for some or many of these 235. What are your chances of dropping dead tomorrow? Small, yes; but not so negligible that you’d want to bet it wouldn’t happen to anyone in a group of 800,000.

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