Republican Congressman John Mica, representing Florida's 7th District, is an inveterate drug war zealot. Nearly every week, he strides to the House podium to deliver another broadside in his prohibitionist crusade, attacking Panama or Mexico, sounding the tocsin about "club drugs," or vowing eternal war against reformers. No matter that he often speaks to an empty chamber; his words are preserved for posterity by House cameras, the Congressional Record, and on his House web site (http://www.house.gov/mica/drugspeeches.htm).
Now, Mica has made a shocking claim calculated to gain public and media attention and is broadcasting it onto the Internet via the web site of the committee he chairs, the House Committee for Government Reform's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources (http://www.house.gov/reform/cj/).
"Nations [sic] Drug Deaths Now Exceed Murders," blares the link that takes the reader to Mica's September 22nd press release, which goes on to quote Mica as saying:
"Recent figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that drug induced deaths soared to a record 16,926 people in 1998. The murder rate, as reported by the FBI, is 16,914. Considering the fact that nearly half the murders are drug related, we have a national catastrophe that is being ignored."
The congressman is mistaken. Doug McVay, a research analyst with Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org) was first to spot Mica's jimmying of the numbers, and he did so by going right to the source, the Centers for Disease Control's National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 11, published July 24, 2000. (The report is available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/releases/00news/finaldeath98.htm -- once at that page, click on "view/download PDF").
On page 5, Table B, the report lists the top 15 causes of death in the US for 1998. Homicide is listed as number 13. Drug-induced deaths are not listed in the top 15.
The report lists 18,272 deaths from homicide and legal intervention (p. 53, Table 10) and 16,926 deaths from drug-induced causes (Table 20).
As the report notes, "The category 'drug-induced causes' includes not only deaths from dependent and nondependent use of drugs (legal and illegal use), but also poisoning from medically prescribed and other drugs. It excludes accidents, homicides, and other causes indirectly related to drug use. Also excluded are newborn deaths due to mother's drug use."
As McVay noted in his critique, posted on a reform movement listserv, some perspective may be added by noting that the number of alcohol-induced deaths in 1998 was 19,515. This number has the same exclusions as the drug death category. By way of comparison, the 1998 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) figures on drug deaths provide a figure of 10,123. The DAWN data, consisting of reports from medical examiners in 144 metropolitan areas is admittedly incomplete, but it is safe to assume the majority of drug deaths are reported there. Those figures include deaths not only from illicit drugs, but also prescription and non-prescription drugs.
Clearly, Mica is wrong about drug-induced deaths exceeding murders. But he also claimed that "nearly half the murders are drug related." Oops, wrong again.
Citing the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 1998, the year for which Mica claimed there were 16,914 murders, McVay notes that murders committed by persons involved in drug law violations or "brawls due to the influence of narcotics" totaled 795. The largest categories for murder causes were "other arguments" and "unknown."
Or perhaps Mica meant to say nearly half the murders are alcohol related. That would have been closer to the truth. McVay lets the US Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics make the point: "Convicted murderers in State prisons reported that alcohol was a factor in about half the murders they committed."
It seems there isn't too much left of Rep. Mica's argument.