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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7658/another-drug-war-fallacy/

Another Drug War Fallacy

January 15, 2008 by

Taking legal drugs is safer than taking illegal drugs, right? Think again. Dr. Mercola, a pro-liberty, non-traditional doctor, in his recent e-mail newsletter, has an interesting article by a Dr. Kent titled: “Recreational Drugs FAR Less Likely to Kill You than Prescribed Drugs!” It turns out that “while approximately 10,000 per year die from the effects of illegal drugs, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that an estimated 106,000 hospitalized patients die each year from drugs which, by medical standards, are properly prescribed and properly administered. More than two million suffer serious side effects.” Yet, we continue to spend billions on the illegal drug war. That’s our government for you.


Twisted Numbers January 15, 2008 at 10:52 pm

The data you cite is correct. The assumption you draw from it is not. Legal drugs are much safer than illegal drugs, this is common sense and rather obvious. Ilegal drugs do however kill less people though. One thing the numbers dont tell you, a significant portion of these legal drug deaths are not the fault of the medication. Its medical error, the doctor screws up or the pharmacist reads the handwriting incorrectly. Its human error.

Many more people take legal drugs compared to those who take illegal drugs. Also what about those who died from legal drugs which resulted from a bad reaction when the person had ingested illegal drugs but the doctor didnt know about it. You simply cannot compare the two using total deaths alone. If you want to call one safer you must use percentages and compare those, even that is incomplete without more precise data on other contributing factors. This is high school level knowledge, im surprised i have to spell it out for a blog on mises.org.

Jon Bostwick January 15, 2008 at 10:58 pm

“properly prescribed and properly administered.”

Canuck January 16, 2008 at 12:05 am

So.. it is not significant that 10 times as many people die from legal drugs being used in a medical environment as perscribed. Drugs, that have undergone a high degree of scrutiny before being release for use. Vs.. illegal drugs that are used in uncontrolled unregulated environments,in usafe circumstances (or not) with unsterile instruments often passed between unwashed strangers. Gosh, I wonder how many of those deaths were caused by an adverse reaction to a subscribed substance..

Abel January 16, 2008 at 2:08 am

Yet another ringing endorsement for the FDA.

The FDA also just yesterday made it legal for cloned animals to be sold as food but not requiring labeling. Of course genetically modified foods are also allowed and do not require labeling.


Don’t you feel safe?

ktibuk January 16, 2008 at 3:46 am

And if the FDA didn’t exist, many more people would die, trying experimental drugs.

This is not a valid argument for legalization of drugs.

Everyone own their own body, should be sufficient.

kurt January 16, 2008 at 5:43 am

First you give hand out a monopoly, then you wonder why they abuse the system and have become rentseekers:
AstraZeneca, Sanofi, Other Drugmakers Probed by EU

Artisan January 16, 2008 at 6:53 am

Genetically modified food needs labelling and regulation in Europe.
I do even believe this would continue in a libertarian society: in the name of biodiversity… as it’s ultimately not respectuous of homesteading property rights to rotten out a specie.

Basically there’s a war between the enforced patent monopoly and the GMO agriculture… One of both must at least be wrong.

If you manage to patent a special sort of grass, which then spreads its genetical (“superior”) structure accross the country, through mere natural causes everybody on his own property “owes” you royalties… (Hey! why can’t we patent a virus to be rich?)

David Spellman January 16, 2008 at 9:50 am

The arguments about the drug war and legal medical drug pushers are all interesting. It still boils down to personal freedom and someone else controlling your life.

Freedom includes the power to do good and the power to destroy yourself. If someone else can control your behavior, then they also have the power to do good to you and the power to harm you.

If I am going to be helped or harmed, I would rather do it myself than let someone else do it to me. The drug war is a war against free will–the very thing that most drug warriors claim drugs harm.

Axel Riemer January 16, 2008 at 9:57 am

While I agree with the premise behind the argument, the reasoning is faulty. It’s bad mathematics to compare x people who died from illegal drugs to y people who died taking legal drugs. The population sizes from which x and y are derived are not necessarily the same. A percentage of people who die from legal and illegal drugs would be far more telling – but of course, accurate figures are hard to come by.

Yancey Ward January 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm

The commenters above who take issue with the comparison of the absolute numbers of deaths are correct. To fully evaluate the issue, one needs to know how many and how often each class of drugs is taken.

Observer January 16, 2008 at 1:54 pm

In addition to the sample size problems, you’re also ignoring intentional risk. If I have have a 95% chance of dying from cancer, I’d be willing to take a drug that will cure me, but has a 50% chance of killing me. That’s an unnaturally clean example, but since most of the legal drugs referred to are non-recreational, it is very likely that we would tolerate higher risk in legal drugs.

Oh, and citing raw numbers without even mentioning population size and then claiming that they prove something is about as intellectually dishonest as it gets.

riffraff January 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Isn’t it true that a pretty high percentage (something like 85%) of Americans that regularly use any illegal drug uses only marijuana?

Why would anyone expect a large number of deaths to be caused by illegal drugs, if by far the most popular of all illegal drugs has never and will never cause a single death?

Álvaro January 16, 2008 at 3:02 pm

@David Spellman

If genetically modified grass appeared in my property without me buying it, not only would I not pay royalties – I would sue the owners for trespassing.

Just as if a genetically modified animal appeared in my property.

Inquisitor January 17, 2008 at 12:27 pm

“Genetically modified food needs labelling and regulation in Europe.”

In a roundabout way, I agree. Manufacturers should never sell a good on false pretenses. For that they may be sued for fraud. Ultimately, if a consumer buys a good and the manufacturer offers no information, and the consumer does not care, then caveat emptor. If, on the other hand, the manufacturer knowingly misrepresents what the good is, then it is fraud. I think consumers will tend to opt for well labeled as opposed to non-labeled goods.

Daniel Trebbien January 17, 2008 at 9:39 pm

The title of this post is entirely correct: another drug war fallacy is that “[illegal] drugs [are] far less likely to kill … than prescribed drugs”.

Consider this: nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug (http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=107), which means that there are about 150 million prescribed drug users. Also, there are approximately 7 million Americans who use illegal drugs (http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2k6nsduh/2k6results.cfm#Ch7).
Therefore, in rough terms, 0.143% of illegal drug users die compared to 0.071% of prescribed drug users, not including the numerous negative externalities, such as the fact that approximately 5% of all murders are drug-related, and other factors that cannot be accurately accounted for, such as the fact that 3.2 million of the illegal drug users also abuse alcohol.

Moreover, maybe some illegal drug users are technically “alive”, but no rational person would include in the definition of “living” “to waste one’s life in a state of mindless inability, aka ‘being high’”. That’s as good as dead.

Joe T September 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm

You guys are all missing the point here: The standards for legal drugs should be 1million times higher than for illegal drugs. Not only are prescription drugs LEGAL, they are PRESCRIBED. That means they are intended to heal/help. They are not only not healing, they are killing!

You are also neglecting the side effects of prescription drugs which usually outnumber any helpful outcome 20-1. Some prescription drugs such as Lunesta even say in small writing in their commercials “it is not quite known how Lunesta works” !!!

What more proof do you need? Pharmaceutical drugs are the biggest racket known to civilization. The only difference between them and “illegal” drugs is the fact that they are regulated; and by regulated I mean taxable. A prescription drug should NEVER kill anyone.

Lastly, it’s common sense, if something will harm you, don’t eat/drink/touch it. Sadly, many people don’t have the common sense to realize governments don’t have their citizens best interest at heart, they have their own.

Ratio’s don’t matter when 0 people died from Marijuana use last year. The violence associated with illegal drugs is due to the Black Market in which they are sold. Remove the Black Market, the violence disappears.

On a side note, how can you trust the FDA when it’s a branch of a government that had Manuel Noriega on the CIA payroll specifically so they could smuggle drugs and make cocaine connections in South America During the Iran Contra Affair?

Open your eyes.

Scott D January 18, 2008 at 2:55 pm

I think that all of the people who have complained about the difference in sample size are missing the point. It is not possible to draw a perfect comparison between the two, as Daniel believes he has done above. You can choose to draw your lines around any sample group you want and bend the statistics to your will.

For example, I could limit my sampling of legal drug deaths to hospitalized patients, which brings the percentage up to 6.7% (thanks for that link, Daniel), or expand my sampling of illicit drug use by changing it to “recreational drug use”, thereby including alcohol and smoking. This makes the total number of legal and illegal deaths about equal.

The point is that the size of the problem is small in absolute terms, measuring about the number of deaths each year by suicide. It is about three thousand more than the number of people who die from aspirin and similar pain medicines. Yet US federal, state, and local governments spend about $50 billion per year fighting drugs.

anon January 18, 2008 at 7:35 pm

The CDC has some programs for suicide. Thye arent much, but I thin k that they are good:


1-800-273-TALK (prevention hotline)

Its hard to believe, but suicide is the 11th leading cause of death here

I feel sad for th e kids

nemo January 29, 2008 at 7:36 am

Please consider two facts regarding the numbers quoted by Mr. Vance:

1. The persons who died or suffered side effects had been medicated due to illness (at least in most cases – wrong diagnosis and wrong definition of clinical deases (ADS?) apart).
The correlation between their death or side effect and the administered drug might be just a correlation in many cases and not a cause. This would change the numbers against Mr. Vance’s argument.

2. Many deaths and ailments are indeed the result of medicine “properly prescribed and properly administered” but they are never beeing assoiated with the intakae of theese medicines due to many different reasons:
- patient leaves hospital or doctor, dies and death will be associated with other cause
- patient gets chronically ill and/or dies due to unknown side effect
- patient gets treated with “success” for one illness, but because of this treatment develops other dease, typically with time delay, which then counts as new dease, loosing any correlation with prior “successful” treatment (hypothesis: many cancer incidents, many autoimmune diseases, many allergies have such causes)

I think it should be studied whether the second point is or is not much larger in number than the first, supporting the argument of Mr. Vance.

John February 7, 2008 at 8:05 am

Not only is it medical error that actually causes the deaths, i think there is many combos to legal drug deaths, there are people who abuse theses drugs which in turn make them profitable to sell on the black market. Doctors who are highly trusted to give prescriptions, also are human and abuse that trust for profit, i know this because i have witnessed first hand. Doctors like everyone else can have hidden addictions to illegal drugs, cocaine and crack cocaine and will trade a prescription for coke if needed quite easily and undetected. I think to safely prescribe drugs you have to constantly drug test the people handling the drugs, including doctors, it should be manditory. The only way to combat the rise in legal drug additions and deaths is to strike at the heart of the issue, the distribution of these drugs. Which will invade the personal lives of high level professionals in our society, Doctors etc.

Holly March 19, 2008 at 10:13 pm

“32 million Americans are taking three or more medications daily.”

Here is the point of the initial post — it somehow got lost to statistical analysis: Too many people are taking prescription drugs. That is the heart of the matter… people trust “professional” drug pushers because they are assumed to be there for the benefit of theor their health. In reality they are pushing more drugs than the illegal drug pushers. And you have to weight the risk against the benefit. Of the people who died from these overdoses how many would have died without taking the medication?

Cristian June 20, 2008 at 10:28 am

So if I read well, this article tell me that you probably have a higher chance of success in a drug addiction treatment than in a normal one… our medical care system needs to be put on track because such things as said above do not need to happen.

dev September 4, 2008 at 7:37 am

so who is right? is there some sort of set standard of right and wrong? is it wrong if i want to smoke pot or drop acid? or is it wrong that people ive never even met are gonna tell me i cant? oh, but i can get drunk and smoke tobacco? so how many people die each year from alcohol and drunk drivers? how many die from stoned drivers

Vista Bay October 9, 2008 at 12:53 pm

I find it very interesting to hear the facts that come out about prescription drugs. The FDA makes billions of dollars a year at other peoples expense. They advertise a new miracle drug that is suppose to help cure you and at the end you hear ” the side effects of taking this is are…” I’m better off not taking it and dieing with whatever I have than take the drug and get 3 more medical problems that they will give me more drugs for.

Rick September 20, 2009 at 7:32 pm

LEAP (law enforcement against prohibition) is the only sane answer to the war on drugs. We spend $65 BILLION a year to “fight” this “war” and for what? If people want to kill them selves, and they do if they smoke tobacco, then why are we not putting tobacco users in Jail too? The Corporate prison industrial complex is the only one that benefits here, lawyers, cops, and Judges,and corrections personel and the supply side of the industry, food services, prison factory products, virtual slave labor, and civil and human rights violations all occur within this system.

In the end the US is no better then China for doing the same to it’s prison population.

Let’s examine the last three presidents, Bush2, Clinton, and Bush1.

Bush 2 was a highly likely coke user and alcoholic, Clinton said he didn’t inhale, his running mate Gore made no bones about his inhaling, and Bush 1 put Manuel Noreiga of Panama in power and was a major cocaine cartel member and used the Panama canal as his personal smuggling route when Bush 1 was the head of the CIA, just like Bush 1 did with Saddam Hussein, and his insane sociopathic sons, so who wants to argue the keeping illegal drugs is a good thing?

I say the facts are about 4.3% of Americans are illegal drug users who are in fact addicts, which we all agree is a medical illness, so why are we putting sick people in prison? The drug war is a total failure and the people know it, it’s just that the machine won’t let us shut it down, and that’s what the industrial prison complex is a machine that cares not a one wit about the people it destroys, after all, the conventional thinking is that these people aren’t worth saving so lets just throw them out into the garbage pile prison system and we’ll get federal funds to throw them away. talk about evil, America, wake up, we’re no better than Hitler with that kind of thinking. If we keep drugs illegal, we have literally handed over billions of dollars over to the cartels and the crime related to drug use is a direct result of the artificially high prices the black market our laws created in the first place and is the real cause of the crime rates associated with illegal drug trafficking, legal drugs are cheap, the addict would not need to steal, burgle, or rob banks, stores or people. Look at Holland, reduced rates of diseases from shared needles, reduced crime rates because the drugs are inexpensive compared with the black market drugs which are by the nature of the market uncontrolled, and impure. Our laws have come back to bite us. It’s time to stop the insanity of this failed “war on drugs”. LEAP stands for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Search it up on the web. Join support as I do as a volunteer to sponcer LEAP speakers in your community, they have guest speakers in many countries, and they are all either active duty officials, officers, or retired law enforcement officials, Judges, District Attorney’s and retired Judges, so they know first hand what the futility of this insanity really is.

Thanks for considering this idea, I hope this helps others see the waste of it all, it’s long since past due we stop this madness.

Gheorghe June 9, 2010 at 11:11 pm

These numbers do carry your point, but they would be MUCH stronger if you included the ratio of the amount dying drug users to the total amount of drug users.
Without mentioning this ratio, your point is subject to a whole new category of debate.
However, I do fully support this fallacy that you have just pointed out.
A prime example of our governments “wonderful” bureaucracy.

Rita July 3, 2010 at 7:23 pm

The war on drugs is a total non sense, just as any other war. A robbery to the american tax payers, an unsustainable unefficient method to deal with a problem that became a money making machine. The demand is there, so the offer will be there, legal or illegal. All that money spent on the war should be spent on education and prevention, and if people get the addiction, instead of going to jail, go for affordable addictiont reatment centers, that’s doing things with dignity, wars are only for the war profiters, and these are never the people or the users. Meanwhile the government gives exlusivity to the illegal drug dealers and traffick and distribution, and that is a hell of a great business for the drug mafia, I am sure they dont want drugs to be legalize neither.
Where there is a will, there is a way…and if one has a sick , obstinate will, they also find a way to satisfy it, their sick perverse will, and perpetuate in the same unfruitful, mediocre course of prohibition. At least try to find a new balance and let the government make their own inventory and use some self-correction, and show some transparency and good results, they cant keep doing bad and oblige the masses to contribute and buy it!

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