So the past couple of weeks the Canadian press has been flooded with stories of deaths from ingesting “ecstasy” pills that contain PMMA or paramethoxymethamphetamine, the 4-methoxy analog of methamphetamine. I believe it has now been linked to at least 25 deaths- ranging from teenagers to people in their 40’s.
The really disturbing thing- more so then the deaths themselves, has been the comments to the newspapers stories- often something to the effect that “drug users deserve to die”. And yet I can’t help but picture the labatts or molson in their hands- cigarette dangling from their lip.
And yet- here’s the rub. MDMA, in and of itself- is an amazingly safe drug. When it was banned in the US in 1985 it was done so against the recommendation of the scientific panel established to study the issue. And it is seeing a renaissance in research- currently in the US it is easier to get approval to do human studies with MDMA (as well as ketamine and psilocybin) then it is for cannabis.
The British Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs prepared a paper last year, published in the prestigious peer reviewed medical journal The Lancet: “Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis” ranking drugs on their harm to both society and the individual, on numerous criteria. Alcohol faired worse then either heroin or crack cocaine (due largely to the harms to society) with a score of 72 (heroin and crack were 55 & 54 respectively). Tobacco was at 26, while “ecstasy” was at 9.
The truth is- prohibition has failed- just as it did with alcohol nearly a century ago. We all know the line- “those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”. So what has changed?
Once again we see criminal enterprises being enriched by prohibition, and the violence and corruption that comes with it. We see no meaningful reduction in demand or supply. We see drugs being misrepresented and adulterated- after all- when one is engaged in an illegal activitiy the only incentive that remains is profit. And we see billions of tax-payer dollars being wasted with not only no beneficial effect- but numerous deletirous effects.
And of course we see millions of people criminalized for no other crime then choosing to put a substance more interesting then alcohol into their own bodies.
And while the Canadian press continues to scream about the dangers of “ecstasy”- they ignore the danger of alcohol. During the same time period more people died in alcohol related crashes then died from the tainted ecstasy- and if MDMA, which is what “Ecstasy” is supposed to be were legal and regulated- we would likely have seen no deaths.
While these figures are a decade old- here are just a few statistics on alcohols harms in Canada
more than half (783) of the alcohol-related severe trauma hospitalizations in Canada were the result of motor vehicle collisions. The other two causes of alcohol-related severe trauma were falls (21%) and assaults and homicides (18%). Of those admitted to a specialized trauma hospital due to alcohol-related injuries, 27% were between the ages of 10 and 24, and another 22% were aged 25 to 29 years old.(20) Other data from the CIHI showed that young adults under the age of 25 were involved in over 30% of alcohol-related motor vehicle collisions in 2002-2003. “Among youth, 62% of severe trauma deaths related to alcohol were the result of a motor vehicle collision, and 30% of these fatalities occurred in people younger than the legal drinking age
As for deaths attributed to alcohol-related road crashes, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada estimated that 1,055 persons died in alcohol-related road crashes in Canada in 2002. The vast majority were men (80%). Over two-thirds were the drivers of the vehicle (68.3%).(22) The number of motor vehicle deaths directly involving a drinking driver was estimated to be 850, down significantly from the 1,296 estimated deaths in a similar study conducted in 1995.(23)
Alcohol also plays a key role in snowmobile accidents. According to the CIHI, alcohol was a factor in almost half of the hospitalizations for snowmobile-related trauma in 2003-2004. “Of those with positive alcohol levels, 91% were driving the snowmobile. More than one in three (39%) of these individuals required mechanical ventilation and on average stayed in hospital more than three times as long (33 days) as those who had no alcohol in their blood and were admitted to a specialized trauma unit with snowmobile-related injuries.”(24)
According to data on the causes of deaths recorded in Canada in 2003, 666 people died as a result of mental and behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol. The main cause of death was alcohol dependence syndrome (328 deaths); followed by deaths caused by the harmful use of alcohol (155 deaths) and deaths caused by acute intoxication (77 deaths). The vast majority of people who died of alcohol-related mental and behavioural disorders in 2003 were men (507 males, 159 females). That same year, another 818 people died of alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. Again more males than females died (615 as opposed to 203), and the vast majority (81.5%) were 50 years and older. A little over 58% of deaths attributed to alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver involved people between the ages of 50 and 69. Finally, poisoning by and exposure to alcohol was the cause attributed to another 106 deaths.(25)
Close to 79,000 incidents of impaired driving were reported by Canadian police forces in 2004,(26) a rate 33% lower than a decade ago.(27) Although the number of impaired driving offences has been generally declining for over two decades, these offences accounted for two-thirds of all Criminal Code traffic offences in 2004. In Canada, impaired driving is prohibited under the Criminal Code. If convicted, impaired drivers face various penalties ranging from a mandatory minimum driving prohibition period and a fine and/or jail term that could be up to life imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the offence committed and whether the person convicted of the offence is a repeat offender. As well, license suspensions and other sanctions (e.g., vehicle impoundment, mandatory participation in a rehabilitation program) can be imposed in various jurisdictions across the country.(28)
So please, by all means, tell me: why do we continue spending billions on prohibition that has failed, when legalization, taxation, and regulation can not only limit the harm or illicit drugs more then prohibition has, but the taxation can help cover the cost of education and drug treatment? Especially when we as a society allow two of the most addictive and dangerous drugs- alcohol and tobacco, to be legal, openly sold, openly advertised, and in the case of alcohol, have numerous establishments in every community for their ingestion?