07 November 2009

Where's the problem?

Drug-related deaths in England and Wales 2000 to 2004

3 comments:

Simon said...

Now post a graph of the drug related deaths as a proportion of all users of that drug. The higher numbers for alcohol and tobacco can be explained by their easy prevalence and high consumption in comparison to the other drugs.

I expected better of you than falling into that trap.

Dr Grumble said...

The missing denominators are a big problem, Simon. Because of taxation countries know how much alcohol and tobacco is consumed but because drugs like Ecstasy are illegal knowing how much is taken is uncertain. There are many other problems. Small amounts of alcohol might have health benefits whereas small amounts of tobacco don't.

On the other hand if you have a very rare disease and everybody dies of it and a very common disease which kills only a tiny proportion of people, you could argue that from the public health point of view efforts would be better spent on trying to reduce deaths from the very common disease. Put another way, given the current control measures, there might be more mileage in addressing the deaths from alcohol and tobacco than cannabis (which doesn't even appear in the table because nobody has ever died of an overdose of cannabis) or even Ecstasy.

Politicians and the public struggle with uncertainty but it shouldn't paralyse sensible decision making. It's not quite what you are looking for, Simon, but David Spiegelhalter's blog compares Ecstasy with equasy and heroin with hang-gliding.

Dr Grumble said...

The proportion of drinkers who die as a result of their habit in Europe would appear to be quite high. Globally alcohol causes the deaths of 1 in 25 people despite the fact that most adults in the world abstain.

Nutt has been trying to point this out but when it comes to alcohol there is a great unwillingness to accept his case. Now why do you think that is, Simon?