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How Many Americans Die Every Year in The War on Drugs?

Submitted by smorgan on

According to Esquire, it may be as many as 15,000. It's awfully hard to calculate with any certainty, but the author's point is to demonstrate that Mexico's frightening drug war death toll isn't the only one worth discussing. Americans are also paying a great price for our disastrous drug policy and it's time to take a closer look at how those numbers add up and how ending the drug war can bring them back down.

Predictably, Mark Kleiman has a problem with the article's pro-legalization angle and expresses his doubts about the 15,000 figure. My question for Kleiman is this: if that number is wrong, then what's the correct number? How should it be calculated? The bottom line here is that people are getting killed constantly in the war on drugs and we're trying to do something about it.

Kleiman hypocritically attacks both sides in the drug war debate for failing to use what he considers "factually and logically sound arguments," while simultaneously insisting – without any proof -- that legalization will create catastrophic spikes in drug use. He could be right, but we don’t really have any way to find out other than by doing exactly what he says we shouldn’t do. Personally, my gut instinct is that Kleiman is partially right, but that the benefits of reducing the collective harms of prohibition will decisively outweigh the new harms he anticipates. Again, there's only one way to find out.

Moreover, it's just crazy to accept the current body count based on the assumption that alternatives can't possibly work. LEAP's Neill Franklin nails this point:

But what about the argument that drugs will spread like wildfire if we don't keep bringing down the hammer?

"First, there's no concrete study to support such a belief — it's all completely speculation," Franklin insists. "So in my left hand I have all this speculation about what may happen to addiction rates, and then I look at my other hand and I see all these dead bodies that are actually fact, not speculation. And you're going to ask me to weigh the two? Second, if the addiction rate does go up, I'm going to have a lot of live addicts that I can cure. The direction we're going in now, I've got a lot of dead bodies."

Regardless of how legalization might impact addiction rates, it's just a fact that people are presently getting shot to death over drugs on a daily basis. If you think it has to be that way, you're wrong. People do not have to be murdered in the streets constantly. We can change that, we really can, and then we can do some more number crunching and decide if regulating drug sales is worth it or not.

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