The One Statistic to Forever Scare You Away From Drugs

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National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Feb. 7, 2014, 6:51 a.m.

Ac­cord­ing to a newly re­leased study from the Journ­al of Sub­stance Ab­use Treat­ment, hard drug users who use both heroin and co­caine have a mor­tal­ity rate that is 14.3 times high­er than the pop­u­la­tion at large. 

For users of co­caine alone, that rate is 5.1 times high­er. 

The res­ults come from a sur­vey of more than 20,000 drug users in Spain who were ad­mit­ted in­to treat­ment pro­grams over the span of 10 years (1997-2007). The re­search­ers fol­lowed up on the par­ti­cipants un­til 2008, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing “a total of 132,824 per­son-years of fol­low-up,” they wrote — a truly massive amount of data.

The au­thors sug­gest this is per­haps the largest sample of drug users ever stud­ied. 

Here are some of their grim find­ings.

  • “Heroin use was also the strongest in­de­pend­ent pre­dict­or of a high­er mor­tal­ity risk among all co­caine users.”
  • “Oth­er sig­nificant risk factors were daily co­caine use and hav­ing been pre­vi­ously ad­mit­ted to drug treat­ment.”
  • “Not hav­ing reg­u­lar em­ploy­ment and life­time drug in­jec­tion were im­port­ant in­de­pend­ent mor­tal­ity risk factors both among [co­caine-only users] and [co­caine and heroin users].”

Their find­ings also sug­gest that co­caine use is slightly more dan­ger­ous for wo­men than men, but they are not sure why. 

Though the num­bers are stark, the re­search­ers do ad­mit that their sample was lim­ited to people who have entered re­hab, which could mean the par­ti­cipants in their sample had a more ag­gress­ive drug habit than what would be rep­res­en­ted in a truly ran­dom sample. And also, dir­ect caus­a­tion can’t be in­ferred from a sur­vey. “This ex­cess mor­tal­ity can­not auto­mat­ic­ally be at­trib­uted to co­caine or heroin use, be­cause par­ti­cipants and the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion may dif­fer in oth­er factors that were not as­sessed, such as men­tal dis­orders, per­son­al­ity factors, [and] so­cial con­di­tions,” they write.

But still, even if it serves as a high bound­ary of the risks of us­ing drugs, it’s a bound­ary you don’t want to ap­proach. After all, who would would want to even double their chance of dy­ing, let alone in­creas­ing it 14-fold.

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