Drug Induced Deaths

"Drug-Related Deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 19,102 people died in 1999 (or 52 such deaths per day) as the direct result of drug-induced causes. Although current CDC data are not directly comparable with prior-year estimates, there was a steady increase in drug induced deaths between 1990 and 1998 -- from 9,463 to 16,926." -- ONDCP 2002 National Drug Control Strategy, p.29

Should we really be concerned about this?

Sources: ONDCP 2002 Drug Control Strategy
Centers for Disease Control, CDC Wonder System

There are several reasons why we should not be alarmed at all by the oft-quoted statistics about "drug-induced" deaths. The first reason is that 20,000 deaths is a pitifully small number in the face of the fact that some 2.4 million deaths occur annually in the US. Within the context of the drugwar however, what is important is how few deaths among even this incredibly small number are actually due to illegal drugs. The way the drug warriors talk, you'd think that all these deaths are due to overdoses of heroin or cocaine. As usual, the truth of the matter is far different from what we are being told.

Below is a table of all deaths in the US and the total number of deaths from 1979-1998 listed as "drug-induced," followed by another table with the breakdown of the ICD-9 codes and total deaths attributed to each cause for the cumulative 20 years. Remember, we're being told that we need to spend $20 billion a year, wrecking countless lives in the process, in part due to the spectre of death from "drugs."

Total Deaths vs Drug-Induced
All DeathsDrug-Induced
YearTotal DeathsNumber % of All Deaths
1979 1,913,841 7,101 0.371
1980 1,989,841 6,900 0.347
1981 1,977,981 7,106 0.359
1982 1,974,797 7,310 0.370
1983 2,019,201 7,492 0.371
1984 2,039,369 7,892 0.387
1985 2,086,440 8,663 0.415
1986 2,105,361 9,976 0.474
1987 2,123,323 9,796 0.461
1988 2,167,999 10,917 0.504
1989 2,150,466 10,710 0.498
1990 2,148,463 9,463 0.440
1991 2,169,518 10,388 0.479
1992 2,175,613 11,703 0.538
1993 2,268,553 13,275 0.585
1994 2,278,994 13,923 0.611
1995 2,312,132 14,218 0.615
1996 2,314,690 14,843 0.641
1997 2,314,245 15,973 0.690
1998 2,337,256 16,926 0.724
Grand Total 42,868,083 214,575 0.501

Source: Centers for Disease Control, CDC Wonder System

The breakdown of death categorizations included in the tally of "drug-induced" deaths includes these ICD-9 codes: 292, 304, 305.2-305.9, E850-E858, E950.0-E950.5, E962.0, E980.0-E980.5

The meanings of the codes and the cumulative 20 year death totals for each cause are as follows:

ICD-9 Code ClassificationCumulative Deaths% of Drug-induced
292 Drug psychoses140 0.065
304 Drug dependence11,897 5.55
305.2-9 Nondependent abuse of drugs 13,9926.52
E850-E858 Accidental Poisoning 104,55448.72
E950.0-5 Suicide 58,208 27.13
E962.0 Homicidal poisoning by drug 5340.25
E980.0-5 Poisoning (intent undetermined) 25,25011.77

Source: Centers for Disease Control, CDC Wonder System

Click the ICD code for a complete year by year breakdown. Click the "classification" label for category definitions. Click individual category label to drill down in data.

Clearly, as we can see from this table and the chart above, the vast majority of deaths due to drug-induced causes can be lumped into two categories: accidental overdose (850-58) and suicide by drug (950.0-5) which together account for about 76 percent of all such deaths for the 20-year period 1979-1998.

What we really need to know, however, is exactly how many of these drug-induced deaths are caused by illegal drugs. Afterall, if we are trying to justify jailing people over this sort of self-directed activity, it would behoove us to have as clear a picture as possible of what is actually going on.

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