Is Crack a Leading Cause of Death?
In March 2004 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported on the leading causes of death in the United States. The leading cause of death in the USA is tobacco. In 2000, 435,000 deaths (18.1%) were caused by tobacco. The key issue in the CDC report was the increase in deaths caused by obesity. In 2000, 400,000 deaths (16.6%) were caused by poor diet and physical inactivity. The use of illicit drugs is also considered an actual cause of death, yet in 2000, the number of deaths caused by all illicit drug use was only 17,000, or 0.7%. Alcohol consumption, microbes such as influenza and pneumonia, toxic agents such as asbestos, firearms and sexual behavior are all bigger killers than illicit drugs in the United States. Alcohol is responsible for 85,000 or 3.5% of deaths, 5 times as many as illicit drugs.
Figures collected by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which claim that cocaine was involved in about 200,000 emergency room visits in 2002, have been used to show that cocaine and crack are very dangerous. These numbers, however, must be treated with caution. In most cocaine-related admissions (138,331 or 69%) cocaine had been used in conjunction with other drugs, including alcohol.
It follows that “cocaine related” is not the same as “cocaine caused”, nor is it a “death due to cocaine.” In fact, the same DAWN government figures for 1999 showed that only 308 deaths in that year were caused directly by cocaine alone.
Find the report at http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/factsheets/death_causes2000.htm and see the abstract of the JAMA article at http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/291/10/1238
Figures from SAMHSA Drug Abuse Warning Network Detailed Emergency Dept. Tables, 2002. Table 4.9
Figures from SAMHSA Drug Abuse Warning Network Annual Medical Examiner Data 1999, HSS December 2000, p.47, http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/99me_annual.pdf