Tag Archives: drugs

Sense of Perspective

I remember back a few years ago reading a headline that said men who took a certain over-the-counter drug were 50% more likely to get cancer. I don’t remember what the product was, but it was something that I took from time to time, so I paused to read the article before moving ahead to the comic pages.

Towards the end of the article I learned that the study involved a cancer that was found in one in 100,000 men, and that taking this medication in significant amounts would lead to one and a half men out of 100,000 getting this cancer. An increase of one-half of a man.

The fault was with the headline writer, though the person who wrote the article took his or her good natured time in getting to the actual risks, which were really nil.

We often lose a sense of perspective on things. If I said that 10,228 people died in 2010 from something preventable, it would seem outrageous not to, well, prevent it. And, in a way that is happening. The number of preventable deaths from this was 7,152 higher ten years before. Of course, I’m talking about alcohol related traffic deaths.

In 2011, 38,364 people died from suicide. Drugs and alcohol may have been involved in many of those deaths, but a sense of hopelessness or self-loathing was likely at the root of those people’s problems.

In 2010, over 11,000 people were murdered with firearms, but over 5,000 were murdered without the help of a gun. That year there were more than 40,000 drug-induced deaths. And, to be honest, I’d bet that many, if not most, of the gun deaths were related to the buying and selling of drugs.

I’m not very comfortable around guns, but it is interesting, in terms of perspective, to see that alcohol related traffic deaths are about the same as the number of murders with firearms. And, neither is close to drug-induced deaths.

And yet there is growing interest in making drugs legal, and any suggestion that alcohol be outlawed brings hoots of laughter, since “we tried that already.” And indeed, we did.

The death of more than 38,000 people due to suicide suggests a big problem in people’s mental health, which, when paired with drugs and firearms, gives us a very dangerous formula, as we’ve seen too many times in the past few years.

It is a mistake to over-simplify. Since the mid-1960’s people have been trying to ban guns, and other people have fought against banning them. The iconic bumper sticker, “If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns” is an over-simplification, but also worthy of some consideration.

It is true that society would be better off if zero people were killed by guns, or drugs, or cars, or alcohol, or by their own despair. It is unrealistic to expect such an outcome, but a reasonable discussion of how to solve these problems is a good thing, as long as we keep our sense of perspective.

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Whitney

It was very sad to hear about Whitney Houston’s death earlier this year. She was a beautiful woman with immense talent. I actually purchased a CD of Whitney’s performance of the National Anthem which she sang before the 1991 Super Bowl. It moved me to tears when she sang – or lip-synched – it back then, partly because the orchestration was beautiful, but mostly because her singing was magnificent.

Her decline into what we’re lead to believe was a drug addled life with then husband Bobby Brown turned her fabulous career into a sad joke. The Saturday night satire program, Mad TV often parodied the Whitney and Bobbie show in skits, showing the two of them as drunk or high or both. It might have been funny if it weren’t the reality of their life together.

After divorcing Mr. Brown, Houston seems to have worked hard to pull herself together to re-start her career, with mixed results. A good CD came out of her period of renewal, but a concert tour left fans disappointed. A movie was in the works at the time of her death, and I really don’t know if it’s close enough to being done that it can be released.

Inexplicably, Tony Bennett, who I respect deeply as a musician, but have lately begun to wonder about in other regards, made an impassioned statement in favor of legalization of drugs, suggesting that that could have saved the lives of Houston, Amy Winehouse, and others who have succumbed to drug overdoses.

I know that this topic has been debated for many years, with arch conservative William F. Buckley making the case for legalization back in the 1980’s. Libertarians like Ron Paul often support drug legalization. One argument in its favor is that by making drugs a legal commodity, there would be no reason for people to sneak it into the country, taking away the motive for obscene profits by the drug cartels. Also, ostensibly, people wouldn’t have to steal to buy drugs, so all the drug-related crimes would disappear.

I get all that, and I’m a huge fan of individual freedom to make the stupidest possible choices in one’s life. Heaven knows I’ve made some. But, as it turns out, the drugs found in Whitney’s hotel room were legal drugs. Lorazepam, Xanax, and perhaps others. Alcohol, also legal, may have been a factor. Elvis died of legal drugs, as did Marilyn Monroe, though there are conspiracy theorists who have other thoughts on Marilyn’s demise.

So, I’m torn, personally, between people’s right to choose their own behaviors, and the damage I see occurring in our culture if drugs were to be legalized. People may point to the medical marijuana laws in some states, but it is clear that prescriptions for that drug are easy for anyone to get. Your malady? Sleeplessness, anxiety, a pulse – if reports from those states are accurate, it sounds like nobody has ever been denied medical marijuana. So, what if we had medical methamphetamines, medical crack cocaine, medical heroine, and medical morphine? Would those prescriptions be just as easy to get?

I have a hard time seeing how legalizing drugs will result in fewer damaged or destroyed individuals. And yet, is it the role of government to protect us from ourselves? It’s complicated, that’s for sure. It’s always the hope that others will see what happened to Whitney and others, and will walk away from the dangerous drugs that seem so readily available, even now that they’re not legal. That might make her death easier to take.

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