US: Drug policy continues to fail spectacularly

US: Drug policy continues to fail spectacularly
DrugWarRant / Pete Guither / 09,18,2011

Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show

Propelled by an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses, drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States, a Times analysis of government data has found.
Drugs exceeded motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death in 2009, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While most major causes of preventable death are declining, drugs are an exception. The death toll has doubled in the last decade, now claiming a life every 14 minutes. By contrast, traffic accidents have been dropping for decades because of huge investments in auto safety.

Public health experts have used the comparison to draw attention to the nation’s growing prescription drug problem, which they characterize as an epidemic. This is the first time that drugs have accounted for more fatalities than traffic accidents since the government started tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.

So with traffic fatalities decreasing dramatically overall, the Drug Czar has been spending a lot of the government’s policy capital making a big deal about “drugged driving,” pushing for “per se” laws that have nothing to do with traffic safety and making evidence-free pronouncements about what appears to be a non-existent epidemic of impaired drivers.

When it comes to fatalities from illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine, prohibition is what’s usually to blame, due to dangerous additives and uncertain purity.

Of course, the biggest increase in fatalities has been from prescription drugs, and, to be fair, the drug czar’s office has been giving this issue a tremendous amount of attention.

However, giving a problem a lot of attention is not the same as good policy, and the ONDCP has been seriously lacking useful policy to help the problem.

Sure, there have been some PR stunts like prescription drug turn-in programs, which probably bring in (helpfully) a lot of useless junk, but are less likely to reduce the availability of OxyContin or Xanax.

Then there’s marijuana, which could in some cases handle the anxiety or pain relief of much more dangerous prescription drugs, but is kept illegal, while pharmaceutical companies push to prescribe their drugs.

Chronic pain is politicized, with too much being under-treated or being pushed under the radar, leaving patients forced to take risky approaches to dealing with pain.

Finally, there isn’t a coherent national approach to harm reduction. Everything is about abstinence outside of prescribed uses, and so there is very little mass education about the specific dangers of dosage and interaction for off-label/recreational/addictive uses.

I’m sure the Drug Czar’s office has a way to paint this data as a complete vindication of everything that they’re doing. It’s about the only thing they’re good at.

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