Did you know that some of the world’s most deadliest, dangerous drugs also happen to be legal? According to data from the CDC, the three drugs responsible for the most deaths include tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs. There is, however, one component that makes this information not a perfect comparison across the board. Since these drugs are legal and easy to attain, they are going to result in more usage and more problems. If other drugs were as widely attainable and acceptable to use, they too would be deadlier.
Still, these legalized drugs don’t get the same negative attention as their non-legal counterparts. For example, now that the holidays are here, there is an increase in alcohol. You’ll see more advertisements on TV and in magazines, a large amount of alcohol served at holiday parties and more excuses to indulge well beyond the legal limit. The purpose of this article is not to say that legal drugs are worse than illegal ones, but instead to remind ourselves that legal substances carry real risks.
Let’s take a look at three dangerous drugs that also happen to be legal.
Decades ago, smoking was chic and glamorous. But now that we know that tobacco is really just a cocktail of toxic chemicals, it has a stigma to it. Even with all the knowledge we have regarding the dangers of tobacco, it remains legal and heavily taxed. Tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, but it remains the single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death.
Tobacco doesn’t get the same attention as other drugs because it doesn’t have the same effects. People don’t show erratic behavior after smoking a cigarette, and it doesn’t influence their driving habits (except for being less focused on the road when lighting a cigarette). Also, many people agree that smoking is a personal decision that affects only that person. In some cases, this may be true, but the reality is that 88 million nonsmoking Americans, half of them children, are still exposed to secondhand smoke. Tobacco costs our country $96 billion a year in medical costs and another $97 billion in lost productivity according to the CDC.
Alcohol accounts for 3.3 million deaths each year, which is about 5.9 percent of all deaths. An interesting article published in the American Scientist reported that alcohol is deadly at ten times its effective dose (which is the amount needed to get the desired effect), while heroin is deadly at five times, cocaine at 15 times and ingested marijuana at more than 1,000 times. Additionally, alcohol causes more fatal traffic accidents than other drugs. In 2010, alcohol caused more than 10,000 traffic fatalities.
Alcohol is also a factor in 40 percent of crimes, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. It leads to aggression, erratic behavior, family problems, a lack of productivity and injuries. Drinking is a responsibility, and we should all treat it as such. Unfortunately, drinking alcohol interferes with making the right decisions, which is why it’s tied to so many societal burdens like traffic accidents and domestic abuse.
3. Prescription Drugs
Although there are stricter regulations surrounding prescription medications, they remain legal and somewhat easy to get. Plus, our society hasn't moved away from the thinking that there is a pill for everything. Whether it’s a headache, backache or social anxiety, people would rather take a pill instead of working through the symptoms. In some cases, prescription medications are needed, and when used under the discretion of a doctor, can be safe. Unfortunately, they are abused by far too many.
The CDC reports that drug overdose rates in the U.S. have tripled since 1990, with at least 100 people dying from overdoses each day. Prescription medications are responsible for nearly 15,000 deaths a year, more than cocaine and heroin combined. The biggest culprits are prescription opioids that account for three out of four prescription drug overdoses.
As you celebrate the holidays and move into a New Year, do take the drugs that you see everyday seriously. Some people have a far too relaxed attitude when it comes to tobacco, alcohol or prescription medications, especially our young population. Legal is not the same as safe, so use your best judgement for yourself and those around you.