Avoidable deaths

A Los Angeles area doctor has been sentenced to thirty years to life in the fatal overdoses of three of her patients.  This is the latest incident in a trend of opioid deaths that has been growing for more than a decade.  As reported in The New York Times, in 2014, the most recent data available tell us that the current rate of death due to drug overdose is fifteen per hundred thousand, up from nine per hundred thousand in 2003.  This increase has been seen in both cities and in rural areas and involves prescription painkillers and the illegal drug, heroin.

The drugs in question are either Schedule I or II, regulated under the Controlled Substance Act, and are either illegal to use—Schedule I drugs are declared to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”—or are subject to strict controls.   The CSA has been the law since 1970, a part of the global War on Drugs that has proved to caused great harms while failing to keep people from getting drugs.

There is a comparison to be made here with attempts to control guns.  The level of regulation isn’t exactly parallel, though some states and cities approach the type of controls on Schedule II drugs.  But in contrast to substance overdoses, gun deaths have remained steady—around ten per hundred thousand for more than a decade. The homicide rate has been on a decline since the early 90s, while firearm suicides, some two thirds of the total gun deaths, have fluctuated, and accidental deaths, a tiny part of the total, have dropped to about a third of the 1993 number.

In the case of homicides, gun laws show no effect one way or the other.  To claim otherwise would require explaining how Indiana’s homicide rate in 2014 was 5.0/100,000 while Illinois’s was 5.3.  Or how New Hampshire had a homicide rate of 0.9, less than half the rate in Massachusetts of 2.0.  Or how Texas and California both have homicide rates of 4.4/100,000.  These numbers are not a one-year fluke.  These comparisons hold true over the years since the mid 90s.

The varied controls on guns and the strict controls on drugs have a long record of doing nothing at best and more often of imposing huge costs in lives.  But if at first you don’t succeed, keep doing the same thing over and over in hopes that you’ll get different results—such, it seems, is the strategy of advocates of control.  As much of a threat that both sets of laws represent to rights, they have pernicious consequences that get forgotten in many discussions—namely their failures to address the causes of deaths and the impression they create that busywork is a real solution.  Drug addiction, criminal violence, and suicidal ideation are serious problems that won’t be solved simply by underlining the word, no.

Advocates of control want easy answers.  It’s up to those of us who are concerned with solving problems to point out what won’t work and to press for things that will do good.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.

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