Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics


It's almost impossible to live in Baltimore without hearing it declared that the city has 60,000 drug addicts. "That number has been invoked, over and over by countless media and government officials, as shocking shorthand for the city's many ills," Alec MacGillis writes in today's Baltimore Sun. "It has prevailed, like a broken gauge on a gas tank, through four mayors, a large drop in the city's overall population and major changes in the narcotics trade. In truth, the number is almost certainly wrong. It was, at best, a hit-or-miss guess to begin with."

In his piece, MacGillis shows just how shaky the number is—and why it keeps getting cited anyway. The key quote comes from a professor at Johns Hopkins: "If you're needing to get resources, you say the problem is as bad as possible."

NEXT: Thousands of Chappaquiddicks

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  1. I’m looking at the book, “Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities,” by Sam Staley of the Reason Foundation. The forward was by Kurt L. Schmoke who was then mayor of Baltimore. (around 1992)
    Could it be that drug warriors are still getting revenge on Baltimore just because it once had a mayor willing to call bullshit on the WOD?

  2. Does that 60,000 figure include people addicted to alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and other legal drugs?

    I’m addicted to caffeine. I have a hard time functioning at my peak without it, and I am willing to spend money to get it. I go through physical withdrawal symptoms if I don’t get it. Should I go to prison?

  3. I know a woman who once worked for the DOJ. She and a colleague researched and developed a report about crime and policy which did not suit gov’t policy. Out of, I think, 22 pages, only several sentences remained intact after editing by higher-ups.

  4. I have a friend who has a friend in Baltimore who took too much acid and thought he was a glass of orange juice.

    So drugs are obviously a major problem in Baltimore.

  5. In NYC, 50,000 has served as a long-standing, unsourced guesstimate quoted religiously by the New York Times and others throughout the 1990s. They also regularly took officials at their word that anywhere between 500,000 and 800,000 New Yorkers needed drug treatment – appx. 1 in 10 New Yorkers of all ages, and if we exclude everyone under 17 and everyone over 65, it’s a big, nasty proportion.

    And people say Szasz is crazy for calling “Bullshit” on the treatment cartels..

  6. What? Bureaucrats lying to get more money! I’m shocked. At least they don’t find ways to spend every last penny on bullshit to claim they need more money in the next budget. Any cash cow in a storm I guess.

  7. Someone should test the water in the Inner Harbor.

  8. Slightly OT (but when has that ever stopped anyone) but was this story from The Seattle Times already covered on HR? Seems they busted a marijuana smuggling operation with a PATRIOT act “sneak-and-peak” warrant. Now, is anyone still going to claim that searching bags on the NY subway isn’t going to be used as just another tool in the “War on Drugs?” What does it take for everyone to see that giving greater power to law enforcement inevitably ends up being about drugs. Where’s Mona?

  9. Beat me to it, I was just going to post a link to that story- I really wonder how accurate that kind of extrapolation can be. I’m highly doubtful. Seems to me just as likely that they needed to come up with a big splash to justify the time and expense of the study they just finished, and to secure future research funds.

    Not that I’m cynical…

  10. I was referring to Nathan’s post.

    Please refrain from posting while I’m typing. It only confuses things.

  11. I go through physical withdrawal symptoms if I don’t get [caffeine]. Should I go to prison?

    Me too – don’t given them any ideas, thoreau.

    But seriously, that brings up an interesting point. I have, on more than one occasion, been told that it was bad that I was addicted to caffeine and should try to wean myself off it. When I would tell them that I really didn’t mind and it was not a health concern I was told that it didn’t really matter if I minded or not because it’s just bad to be dependent on any chemical. Well, oxygen dependence aside, I realized that it was not a health issue with these people but a moral one. It isn’t the potential harm caused by some addictions as much as the fact of the addiction itself that bothered them. I suspect a large part of the public willingness to go alone with the “WoD” is fueled largely by this kind of sentiment.

  12. thoreau is always trying to point out how silly it is for some drugs to be legal while others are nothing short of the Devil’s elixers.
    Reminds me of the book by the young couple which went round the world sampling and describing exotic foods such as insects, worms, etc.
    Seems that wherever they went, that when they told their current hosts about the eating habits of the group they had just left, the latest hosts nearly upchucked their worms or whatever.

  13. I think we almost have to lay off the government’s pet academics here – they’re hamstrung in their search for the truth by the self-serving rhetoric of the drug treatment industry and the “recovery” movements.

    Both groups have an interest in promulgating a standard of addiction that is almost comically low.

    If you were to take the word of the management of a treatment center for drugs or alcohol, an “addict” is anyone who smokes marijuana once every two weeks, or anyone who has three or more drinks at a sitting more than once a month. You’re an alcoholic if you experience a mood change when you drink; you’re a drug addict if you smoke pot despite the presence of social disapproval; etc. These people are selling a product [treatment] and want just about every user to think that they are a customer.

    The “recovery” movement types reach the same conclusion from a slightly different angle; they’re desperate to make their personal failures less unusual than they actually are, and broadening the definition of addiction until nearly everyone is an addict does that nicely. If they can convince you that being grouchy in the morning before you have a cup of coffee is essentially the same as shooting horse every day until you lose your house, job, and kids, they can induce a “there but for the grace of God go I” type reaction in people that might otherwise judge them negatively.

  14. Brian-

    You know, if organized crime wanted it bad enough they could probably get the government to ban coffee. Scary.

    I used to go to a doctor who was vehemently anti-caffeine. It wasn’t a big deal to me because (1) he was otherwise a really good doctor and (2) at the time I wasn’t addicted. But it was almost a puritanical thing for him.

  15. “I think we almost have to lay off the government’s pet academics here – they’re hamstrung in their search for the truth”

    Watch it fluffy!
    thoreau is one of the pets, and we all want job security for him.

  16. thoreau,
    Are we gonna have to cyber-spacially “intervene” here on behalf of your coffee-sluggin’ ass?

    We’re prepared to. We ain’t kiddin’.

  17. I had a sociology professor who liked to go off on how we should illegalize all alchahol and tobaco and it was obvious that the public was demanding this for their own good. The other students cheered him on until he turned on coffee, the reaction ras a little cooler to that suggestion. from that point on I began referring to sociology as a pseudo-science, and berating fellow students who studied it.

  18. thoreau,
    Do you want an alternative to caffiene to make your breath stink?
    Try garlic. It’s supposed to be good for you.
    Why do you think I’m up here in the attic all the time?
    Life is good!

  19. Ruthless-

    I think most people here, myself included, would be happier if my employment in the public sector is a temporary situation.

  20. thoreau,
    From an old job-hopper. Be careful.
    As “whatsis name” said, “Put down your buckets where you are.”

    And Billary Clinton: “I just want to be one hellacious senator before ruling the woild.”

  21. It’s funny, Nixon “opened” China, to everyone’s surprise. But ramped up the drug war despite the advice of scientific experts that there was no reason to pursue it.
    I wish he had done the reverse.

  22. niom,
    Sorry. Can’t go with the reverse.
    Now if we could just “open” Iran, Syria and North Korea, then we could all focus our attention/cosmic energy on the insane WoD.

  23. When caffiene is a crime, only criminals will be awake before 8 am.

    Captain Awesome

    I’ve been referring to sociology as a pseodo-science ever since I got a C in intro to sociology.

  24. What? Bureaucrats lying to get more money! I’m shocked. At least they don’t find ways to spend every last penny on bullshit to claim they need more money in the next budget. Any cash cow in a storm I guess.

    Now, if we could only get more people to realize how much “environmental” regulation falls in the same camp, we’d be getting somewhere.

    Me, I’m addicted to materials that work. Which does not include lead free solder……

    Five years from now, you’ll be safer flying on a plane with old circuit boards and a drunk pilot, than flying on a plane with new lead free soldered boards and a sober pilot.

    But I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know that the next time you take too much acid and start voraciously eating curcuit boards, they’ll be lead free circuit boards.

  25. I still don’t think I’d walk around many parts of Baltimore at night without some serious weaponry at my disposal, 60,000 addicts or not.

  26. …and 50,000 of them are prescription drug addicts, with jobs, mortgages, pension plans, etc. And of course the ability to hide it (most of the time) from the spouse, the kids, neighbors…

  27. “If you’re needing to get resources, you say the problem is as bad as possible.”

    Is there the equivalent of insect spray for over-vigorous buearacracy?

    Unfortunately, gov’t buearacracies are natural born turtles. Try to hurt them and they just pull inside the shell.

    This may be an example of the best single argument for anarcho-capitalism. If a “buearacracy” gets too bloated, it’s prices are too high. Presto, the cold and heartless market kills it.

  28. The Drug trade/usage should correlate to STD’s and AIDS in Baltimore. If STD’s reports are declining then drug usage should be declining.

  29. I was once beaten to death in Logan, Utah, for ordering a Mr. Pib. (I have a wireless connection in Purgatory, smart guy.)

  30. At various times, I have been a regular user of alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, and pot (being a frat boy in college accounts for the daily use of recreational chemicals).

    I have quit all four more or less cold turkey, although not all at once.

    No question in my mind that the withdrawal from caffeine was by far the worst. I don’t recall cigarettes or alcohol giving me any trouble at all, and with pot it was more of a nuisance craving for about a week than anything else.

    Caffeine, though – splitting headaches for days, grogginess and restlessness – bleah.


    (that was a requirement on this board due to His posting)

    Thoreau: from what Rick S’s dog said, you should be imprisoned for other reasons… hmmmmmm.

    having a “fact” repeated often enough becomes true. let’s see if there’s any other times when drug or other behavior warriors have done this…

    second hand smoke –> cancer
    spankin –> blindness (hey who turned off the lights??????)
    speeding –> mommy won’t like it
    runnin’ –> “hurts yer knees”
    voting democrat –> causes the clap

    you see, the lie is out there, somewhere.

    (fade out. 16 ton weight falls)

  32. Caffeine’s a mofo, man. I can function quite happily without any other ‘brain-rearrangers’, but caffeine seems to make the day happen. Great breath enhancer, as well… 🙂

    As far as Baltimore goes, if I lived in that dump I’d want to be pretty fucked up, too.

  33. I sometimes get a craving for a cola, but only rarely for coffee. I think caffeine puts me to sleep. If I’ve got a long night ahead of me at work, I’ll go to Starbucks. And no matter whether it’s a mocha or straight black coffee, after I finish it, I inevitably take a nap. (Maybe it’s because the power of caffeine is insignificant compared to my powers of procrastination.)

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