The Corner

And Statistics

Kathryn, there’s no need to go through the drug debate all over again, but I did read what Bill Bennett and the others had to say, and I am afraid I was left shaking my head.  After the destruction that the drug warriors have caused in this country and others (not to speak of their disastrous contribution to the war in Afghanistan), a little more humility on their part would go a long, long way. We’ve yet to see it.

No matter. I had a look at the report cited by Mr. Bennett and, having done so, I can only congratulate him on the deft way he has borrowed the classic liberal technique of persuasion by crisis. I guess big government types are pretty much the same on either side of the aisle.

The alarm being sounded is that drug use was “on the rise” in 2009. Looking at the same statistics (which are taken from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) as Mr. Bennett, that certainly seems to be true, but what does that rise really mean? If we look more closely at the data (and, more specifically, at the percentage of the population over the age of 12 using a particular drug), we see that cocaine use is flat (and down from the levels of a couple of years ago), hallucinogen consumption is up, but the overall level remains relatively low as a percentage of the population (and is the same as where it stood in 2002), the illicit use of psychotherapeutics (“prescription drugs”) is up, but to 2007 levels, and is still below the total estimated for 2006. The largest increase has been in marijuana use. 6.6 percent of the population were estimated to tried pot “in the last month” up from the roughly 6 percent that has been the norm since 2002, a jump certainly, but given the inevitable uncertainties that surround this data, and given that marijuana is a relatively benign drug, hardly cause for an Al Gore-style shriek.

Relatively benign? Well, let’s look at the total of nearly 40,000 fatal drug overdoses (from all drugs) used by Mr. Bennett as the centerpiece of his piece. That’s not a number I can find in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (perhaps the fault is mine), but if we turn to a recent piece of commentary on a CDC injury center blog, a total of 28,000 deaths from accidental drug overdose is given by the CDC for 2006, with the increase being primarily attributable to prescription drugs. No reference is made to marijuana.

Could it be because killing yourself with a marijuana overdose would require rather more energy than most stoners can manage? On some estimates, the user would have to consume (in one session) an amount roughly equivalent to some five thousand times the dose needed to get high. I’m reluctant to say that it could never have happened, but the record appears to show that there have been no deaths directly and/or solely attributable to marijuana overdose in the United States.

Food for thought, I would think.


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