Friday, 4 September 2015

"Drug deaths in England and Wales reach record levels"

Shock horror from the BBC:

More than 3,300 people died from drug poisoning in 2014 in England and Wales, the highest figure since modern records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics says...

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Although we are seeing fewer people year on year using heroin, in particular young people, any death related to drugs is a tragedy. Our drugs strategy is about helping people get off drugs and stay off them for good, and we will continue to help local authorities give tailored treatment to users."

Hang on one cotton pickin' moment, 3,300 deaths (assuming it to be ballpark accurate and over-reporting and under-reporting net off) is about one per cent of all deaths per year in England and Wales.

So assuming that rather more than one per cent of the population is a fairly regular drug user (the official estimate is 300,000 'opiate and crack cocaine users' plus as many again for other stuff), this means that the chance of a drug user dying is no different to a random person plucked from the population as a whole.

Admittedly, drug users are mainly in the 20 - 40 age bracket, so their chance of dying in any one year is higher than for other 20 - 40 year olds, because the average chance of dying is heavily skewed by old people. But it strikes me that drug users still have a pretty good chance of surviving.

If half a per cent of drug users die each year because of drugs (3,300 out of 640,000, let's say), then the chance of surviving a twenty year drug career is still pretty good i.e. ninety percent (=0.995^20).


Shiney said...

And what they don't mention is

1. How many are due to (mis)use and how many due the fact that the drugs are lower quality/contaminated because its illegal. I bet if all drugs were legalised and regulated the deaths would fall dramatically.

2. How these numbers compare with Alcohol and Tobacco, or motor racing, or skydiving... or any other 'risky' activity.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Sh, yes, if drugs were legal then deaths per user would drop markedly (but we don't know whether number of users would go up or down).

As to the relative riskiness, I'm not sure whether comparisons are important. People know that some stuff is "dangerous" and that is enough.

I mean, nobody is going to think about taking drugs, then look up the stats and realise that sky diving is actually slightly safer, and then decide to do sky diving instead of drugs (or vice versa).

Shiney said...

The relative riskiness point is that when the media (esp the BBC) scream

'xxxx deaths caused by by drugs...'

surely they should say

'but this is actually less risky than [going up a ladder/base jumping/smoking/walking down the street after dark]*'

* delete as appropriate

Bayard said...

They should, but they won't, because 1) it rather spoils the impact and 2) they are basically puritans.