Statistics

Numbers are a common element in articles and speeches about drugs. Numbers can seem to provide precise information. Occasionally, however, the precision is illusory. For example, a study6 of drug deaths in major U.S. cities during the early 1970s found that 60% of deaths in New York involved methadone, but it was involved in under 1% of deaths in Los Angeles and 0% in Chicago. Depending on which city's experience someone was inclined to cite, methadone could be made to appear as a major or as an insignificant problem. Statistics may lump substances together, perhaps saying that a particular percentage of persons who died had marijuana or cocaine in their blood. Those are two very different drugs. What percentage was marijuana and what percentage was cocaine? What percentages were at a level of intoxication? Would intoxication have had anything to do with the cause of death? If so, was the death due to a poisonous effect of the drug, or was it due to a poor decision while intoxicated? Many statistics offer no answers to such questions. Even when statistics are both reliable and meaningful, often they are rapidly outdated.

For all those reasons, The Encyclopedia of Addictive Drugs offers few statistics. Numbers found in this book are solid and should still have meaning years from now. The list of general sources at the end of this book includes Internet Web sites that can provide the latest statistics. They may be accurate, but (as indicated above) their meaning may be uncertain.

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