If we were to have a sane and adult conversation about drug use and abuse in America instead of waging a war on drugs the same way we wage a war on terror, we might come to the realization that we’re letting the bad ones in our homes freely while some of the most helpful to improving the quality of life of the average person carry some of the highest minimum prison sentences of all, while touting an infinitesimal number of related deaths. Some of you may have read Thad McKracken’s well thought out article on the state of drugs in society today. The numbers fall in lockstep with his thoughts.
It turns out that, aside from Alcohol, Big Pharma is the #1 killer while drugs that have been used traditionally as entheogens hardly appear in the statistics at all. Drugs like LSD, DMT, Marajuana, Peyote and other psychedelics are used as a religious sacrament in many belief systems around the world, but are vilified because of their tendency to provide people with what Terence McKenna simply called ‘funny ideas’.
In 2010, there were 80,000 drug and alcohol overdose deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database. The database, maintained by the National Center for Health Statistics, keeps a tally of all the deaths listed on certificates nationwide. They’re classified by the ICD-10 medical coding reference system.
Death reporting in the U.S. requires an underlying cause—the event or disease that lead to the death. This chart represents all those listed in the CDC database as “accidental poisoning,” “intentional self-poisoning,” “assault by drugs,” and “poisoning with undetermined intent.” In addition to the underlying cause, a death certificate has space for up to 20 additional causes. That’s where “cocaine” or “antidepressants” would show up. The subcategories are limited in their detail—many drugs are lumped together, like MDMA and caffeine, which are listed together as “psychostimulants.” And about a quarter of all overdose death certificates don’t have the toxicity test results listed at all, landing them in the “unspecified” stripe.
Gabriel writes for VICE Magazine, Disinfo.com and Realitysandwich.com and is the author of three books. He is continuing his research at the University of Washington in his hometown of Tacoma, WA.