No, 'MILLIONS' of Lives Were Not Saved by That Gigantic Philly Coke Bust

Seventeen tons of coke is nothing to sneeze at, but the dangers of the drug were wildly overhyped by law enforcement.


In what was one of the largest drug busts in U.S. history, federal authorities seized approximately 16.5 tons of cocaine—valued at more than $1 billion—from a ship in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

William M. McSwain, the U.S. attorney for the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, celebrated the news on Twitter.

Overdosing on cocaine is nothing short of a tragedy. But McSwain's implication—that "millions" were in jeopardy prior to the feds intervening—is not borne out by reliable data. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cocaine overdose deaths amounted to a grand total of 13,942 in all of 2017:

Of course, more than 16 tons of cocaine technically could kill millions, if used in excess. That's a big if, though, and it's one that isn't supported by trends around the drug. As Reason's Jacob Sullum points out in Forbes, research from neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart shows that even when crack—the smokable, more potent form of cocaine—reached one of its highest points of usage, addiction rates among all users hovered somewhere between 10 to 20 percent.

Despite the inaccuracy, McSwain's line of thinking is likely a common one, akin to the days of yesteryear when marijuana was associated with violent episodes of reefer madness.

But McSwain's assertions are not only uninformed—they're potentially dangerous. Sullum's work has also highlighted the pitfalls of prohibition, like the proliferation of laced alternatives used to strengthen weak, black market drug options. Particularly common among dealers is cocaine mixed with levamisole hydrochloride, an anti-parasitic drug popularly prescribed by veterinarians. In 2009, 70 percent of cocaine taken at the U.S.-Mexico border contained levamisole, which kills white blood cells and can leave people more vulnerable to infection.

In any case, the CDC's cocaine fatality figures fall quite short of the "MILLIONS" McSwain says the drug will kill—a sentiment that's surely grounded in hysteria, rather than reality.

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  1. Abbie Hoffman once dug into NYC records of “cocaine-related deaths.” I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it was something along the lines that of about 20 “cocaine-related deaths” in NYC in one year, 7 also happened to have fatal stab wounds, 5 had fatal gunshot wounds, 6 had fatal gunshots wounds and stab wounds, 1 had swallowed a balloon full of cocaine that burst in his stomach, and 1, I think, actually overdosed (but I feel like he also had a heart condition).

    It was in this book.

    I know – Abbie Hoffman, so take it with a grain of salt. Or a pinch of coke.

    1. This is sort of analogous to ‘smoking related’ deaths: Get run over by a muni bus while smoking?
      ‘Smoking-related’ death.

      1. Do they really do that with smoking?
        It’s certainly the case with alcohol. If you are sitting there minding your own business with a buzz on and someone hits you with their car, that’s an alcohol involved accident.
        Or marijuana related ER visits. If you broke your arm and mention that you smoked some pot that day, it’s marijuana related.

  2. And the other 10 tons got into the country just fine,

    1. Whew

  3. So what was the purity level of this massive amount of “cocaine”?
    In other words, how much actual cocaine was there, and how much filler?

    1. It was in a shipping container on a ship. The profit motive suggests filler is available at the destination with minimal risk, so I’m going with pretty pure.

    2. When there is that much of it, it’s probably fairly pure. Would be pretty silly to cut it before smuggling it into the country.

  4. Meh, it’s all about Meth now.

    1. Meth use would be way down if blow were legal, except maybe in Missouri.

        1. In fact if you read the article, apparently people switch to meth when they get into heroin treatment.

      1. Meth wouldn’t even exist if amphetamines were legal.

        Nobody would do that horrible shit if the better stuff were available.

        1. Amphetamines are pretty easy to get if you tell your doc you have attention problems.

        2. Methamphetamine or “Meth” would exist (despite the fact all drugs ARE illegal) as 20 million children worldwide have prescriptions for it. In their case it is called “Adderall”. So much for your “horrible shit” conclusion fatso. And you must be overweight if the only exercise you get is jumping to conclusions.

  5. Twenty tons of cocaine seized.

    28 Oct 2016 –

  6. Of course, more than 16 tons of cocaine technically could kill millions

    You move 16 tons, and what do you get
    Another day older and MILLIONS of dead…

    I’m giving Tennessee Ernie Ford a workout today.

    1. Or JJ Cale.

      It is a straight up shuffle. Drummer here adds some ghosted notes on the snare. You can have a lot of fun with this tune.

  7. I saw the headline and figured someone got busted selling loosie Diet Cokes in Hunting Park or something.

  8. >>>This amount of cocaine could kill millions – MILLIONS – of people.

    the party is worth the risk.

    1. This drug bust killed millions of innocent good times

      1. Just think of all the douchebags out clubbing that won’t be able to get any strippers to put out now.

    2. I do appreciate how he emphasized MILLIONS in his tweet. It adds a certain flavor to the panic.

  9. “Despite the inaccuracy, McSwain’s line of thinking is likely a common one, akin to the days of yesteryear when marijuana was associated with violent episodes of reefer madness.”

    “Lie” is not spelled “line of thinking”, but I see what you did there.

  10. Sullum’s work has also highlighted the pitfalls of prohibition…

    That’s where most lives are being saved. Fewer doors being kicked in. Not as many kids finding stun grenades lobbed into their cribs.

    1. Not as many kids finding stun grenades lobbed into their cribs.

      Check out Mr. Helicopter parent over here.

      1. “Ride of the Valkyries” plays when I helicopter parent.

        1. So the kids all surf?

  11. Particularly common among dealers is cocaine mixed with levamisole hydrochloride, an anti-parasitic drug popularly prescribed by veterinarians.

    Boomer’s stepped on coke with Italian baby laxative.

    Fucking Millennials go with hog de-wormer.

    Worst generation ever.

    1. I used inositol.

      1. Yea I think this is on gen z now. Is inositol the stuff in ora-gel? Cuz dehydrated ora-gel and certain types of creatine/protein powder were what the kids were cutting with when i was in college and I’m a millennial.

  12. ^delete apostrophe^

    1. That’s my porn name.

  13. I’m sick of this! It’s time that Americans can buy American cocaine made in America by Americans for Americans! MAGA!

    “You load 16 tons and whatta ya get?
    “Another day older and deeper in debt.”
    And probably a very long prison sentence.

  14. Nobody tell this guy that the Great Lakes contain enough dihydrogen monoxide to kill the entire population of the planet several times over, he’ll shit himself.

  15. Also – “Seventeen tons of coke is nothing to sneeze at”? AYFKM? “Seventeen tons of coke is nothing to SNIFF at. You fucked up the joke!

  16. It takes a nation of millions to hold my crack.

  17. I like the helpful information you provide in your dunia21

  18. In opposition to the hysteria against nuclear power, Reason’s Petr Beckmann once showed that a day’s output of world production of pins or needles could wipe out humanity. One needle to the heart of each human… That is as realistic a risk scenario as the claim that nuclear electricity does anything but increase life expectancy and reduce risk. Also, in 1987, before Ron & Nancy Just Said Nyet, fewer people died of unlabeled cocaine than from gallstones.

    1. Don’t worry Hank, they still murder lots of infants. Much to your personal glee, right?

  19. Nearly 14,000 overdose deaths in 2017? Didn’t realize that many people still did coke.

    1. Well, it looks like most of that was opioid-related.

  20. I guess if you got a few million people together who have heart conditions and had them all take several grams of coke all at once you might get there.

  21. NYPD New Coke is back in biz. Best economy ever.

  22. So it says: “Reason’s Jacob Sullum points out in Forbes, research from neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart shows that even when crack—the smokable, more potent form of cocaine”… Just so I can be clear about this, you have your guy Sullum pointing out in Forbes, research from Dr. Carl Hart instead of Billy the Journalist contacting Dr Hart directly?
    How fucking lazy can you get?
    Dr. Hart would have told you in so many words that crack IS cocaine and that cocaine is cocaine and cocaine is not more powerful than cocaine. Dr Hart would have also told you that what you learned about drugs from government is equal to knowing absolutely nothing about drugs.
    And here you are educating us!
    And a big “way to go” for the people who actually discovered the stash of 16 tons. It shows that the DEA has stopped cocaine from reaching our shores just as police have stopped crime or war has stopped war and Reason is misnamed.

    For more info or any info, especially for those who have no experience with drug use (who give that away by being the most vocal and knowing about the evils and demons etc) go the Dr.’s web site and start learning something.

    “America is full of dumbfucks” – Albert Einstein

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