Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Falsely inflated drug harms

If you want to make both head and tail of the scary drug numbers that were poured across the front page of your Herald this morning, a so called "Drug Harm Index" that  is "more or or less explicitly a public relations tool for police," then head to Russell Brown's post this morning (and the mostly sane comments that follow the post).  "Spectacular but useless" is one of his nicer descriptions for an index of the costs of drug harms that ascribes all the  the costs incurred due to prohibition (i.e. cost of jail, courts, policing) to the costs of the drugs themselves. The words "falsely inflated" are two more that spring to mind as descriptions of this bogus "index."

UPDATE 1:  More sober and dispassionate commentary on the Index here from Liberty Scott.  And a clutch of sober links here pointing readers to what a real economist says about drugs.

UPDATE 2: Eric Crampton, another real economist, notes that Des O'Dea, one of the authors of this new study, was also the author of a cost-benefit analysis of smoking which Crampton tore apart here. "I wonder," he wonders, "if the same errors repeat themselves...."


Eric Crampton said...

The report's finally available!! I've been bugging Anderton and King's offices for a month to get it; now I see it's up on the BERL site.

Des O'Dea, one of the authors, was also the author of a cost-benefit analysis of smoking, which I tore apart here. I wonder if the same errors repeat themselves....

Anonymous said...


Interesting article you wrote. Thanks for the link.

I think the reason reports such as the anti-smoking one (which you indeed tore to pieces), and now this drug one, are not written to illuminate fact on an issue, but rather to justify a special interest, its feelings and its activities.

Interesting they seem to think they need the justification lately. That leads to the conclusion that either they are feeling the pinch (people are losing their belief in the anti-consumption message and anti-consumption activities and don't trust anti-consumption organisations/institutions as much as they once did) or there is some new program/regulation/tax/subsidised activity/legislation/initiative in the pipeline, about to be implemented. Either way, it's justification dressed up to look like identification, hence dishonest. The errors you identified are actually lies.


Eric Crampton said...

If it's of any interest, my prior debate with the anti-tobacco folks in the NZ Med Journal can all be found here. It started with an editorial I wrote, there were then two responses by the public health folks, then a rebuttal by me, then finally the analysis of the report. I've copies of my pieces on the site and links to the NZMJ pieces by the other folks in the debate; apologies to folks without subscriptions.