World War D
The Case against prohibitionism,
roadmap to controlled re-legalization

The cost of the War on Drugs

This is a preview to the chapter The cost of the War on Drugs from the book World War D by Jeffrey Dhywood.
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“War is a mind-set, and all action that comes out of such a mind-set will either strengthen the enemy, the perceived evil, or, if the war is won, will create a new enemy, a new evil equal to and often worse than the one that was defeated.”

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth


There will be a fair amount of number crunching in this chapter. If you have any aversion to numbers, you can just scan through the tables and charts and jump to the conclusion at the end of the chapter. Most of the statistics will apply to the US because this is the only country in the world where statistics of any kind can easily be found on pretty much anything you can think of, and much more that would never cross your mind. Furthermore, the US has been a prohibitionist zealot for over 100 years and has single-handedly spearheaded the War on Drugs for the past 40 years, imposing it on the rest of the world.

Rather than adding lengthy comments, I will generally let the numbers speak for themselves.

legal and illegal drug-related casualties in the US, EU, and throughout the world

According to the WHO, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounted for 63% – 36 million – of all deaths worldwide in 2008, and were the leading cause of deaths in most of the world except Africa. Almost 80% of the NCDs occurred in low and middle income countries. NCD deaths are projected to increase by 15% globally between 2010 and 2020. “NCDs are caused, to a large extent, by four behavioral risk factors that are pervasive aspects of economic transition, rapid urbanization and 21st-century life: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity and the harmful use of alcohol.” Almost 6 million people die from tobacco use and exposure each year, while insufficient physical activity claims 3.2 million lives, followed by overweight and obesity at 2.8 million, alcohol at 2.3 million, and unhealthy diet at 1.7 million. 35 deaths per 100,000 people are attributable to alcohol use, almost 9 times as many as illicit drugs. Injection drug use is related to the bulk of illicit drug-related casualties, estimated by UNODC at around 200,000 worldwide – 0.5% of NCDs, half from fatal overdose. The rest of illicit drugs-related casualties come from HIV/AIDS, suicide, accidents, etc. Roughly 50% of all injecting drug users are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Around 2.8 million injection drug users are HIV-infected, 18% of the injecting population. The vast majority of overdoses are due to inconsistent quality while the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis is due to unsanitary injection practices. Therefore, policy changes such as needle exchange or controlled legalization could more than halve drug-related casualties, as the vast majority of drug-related casualties, from overdose to intoxication and AIDS, are a consequence of the War on Drugs. This figure doesn’t include casualties caused by drug-related violence, the vast majority of which are a direct consequence of the War on Drugs.

In the US, the CDC publishes the National Vital Statistics Report. The latest available report covers the year 2009 (Volume 59, Number 4, March 16, 2011). The following table has been compiled in part from this report:

Cause of preventable deaths in the USYear 2009
Tobacco related443,000
Accidents (unintentional injuries)117,176
Adverse reaction to prescription drugs (2010)82,724
Alcohol related (includes accidents) 79,000
Motor vehicle accidents36,284
Suicide36,547
Drug-induced deaths (abuse of prescription drugs and illegal drugs)37,485
Injury by firearm31,228
Alcohol induced deaths 24,263
Suicide by firearm18,689
Illegal drugs induced deaths17,000
Assault16,591
Assault by firearm11,406


Drug-induced deaths include both abuse of prescription drugs and illegal drugs. According to CDC, at close to 12,000, deaths by prescription opioids exceeded deaths by cocaine and heroin combined in 2007.

The FDA collects reports of adverse reactions to prescription drugs through the Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS). Serious outcomes, which include death, hospitalization, life-threatening conditions, disability, congenital anomaly, and/or other serious outcome, increased 306% from 153,818 in 2000 to 471,291 in 2010; during the same period, fatalities increased 425%, from 19,445 to 82,724, a staggering figure by any metrics, and almost five times the casualties attributed to illicit drugs.
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What else is in the chapter 'The cost of the War on Drugs'?

Societal cost of drug use

The WHO uses a metric called “burden of disease” to evaluate the cost of drug abuse. In the opening paragraph of the 2004 report “Neuroscience of psychoactive substance use and ...

Taxpayers cost of the War on Drugs in the US

The War on Drugs has so many unintended consequences and ramifications that estimating its actual cost is a real challenge. As we have seen above, the US Department of Justice ...

Health costs of the War on Drugs

The legal status of the illicit psychoactive substances has three main types of negative health consequences: ...

Human cost of the War on Drugs in the US

“The prosecution of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens every year is both hypocritical and an affront to individual, civil and human rights.” ...

Conclusion to Section 1

Originating in the US thanks to its settlement patterns, prohibitionism is a 19th century totalitarian ideology of coerced societal transformation. It is just as obsolete as the other major totalitarianisms, ...

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