Regardless of where you stand on marijuana legalization, you have to admit: Marijuana is a fairly harmless drug in comparison to many other entirely legal drugs. While marijuana has 0 attributed deaths, the 3 drugs that cause the most deaths in America are all entirely legal. These 3 drugs are well known and widely available, but let’s consider their legality in terms of the numbers.
Tobacco. Easily accessible and especially deadly over the long term, 480,000 Americans died due to direct or indirect tobacco use in 2010. That’s almost a half million completely preventable deaths! Smokers, on average, have a 10 year shorter life expectancy than non-smokers. A smoking habit is also incredibly expensive. Quitting before age 40 may lessen the harmful effects later in life. Then, use the extra money to save for those additional years you’ve added on to your retirement.
Alcohol. Even without the inclusions of alcohol-related traffic accidents (which account for around 10,000 additional deaths), alcohol was involved in 25,692 deaths in 2010. Alcohol-related disease and overdose are all very real threats with this socially ubiquitous drug. Additionally, the National Highway Administration cites alcohol involvement in nearly a third of all traffic accidents. Columbia researchers found that alcohol consumption multiplies the risk of a traffic accident 13 times, whereas other drugs merely double or triple the risk. Certainly, when consumed in moderation, alcohol can boast certain health benefits. But steps need to be taken to ensure that drinking and driving remain mutually exclusive activities.
Prescription painkillers. According to data released by the CDC, there were 16,651 documented prescription painkiller overdose deaths in 2010. The real issue may be that 12 million people reported using these painkillers non-medically — either without a prescription or for the effect. As a rule of thumb, never use prescription medication without a doctor’s approval. More importantly, keep all prescription medications far out of reach of children.
These 3 drugs account for an outstanding number of unintended mortalities. Granted, the numbers may be slightly skewed. Since these drugs are legal, they are more easily attainable than illicit drugs. Regardless, they are still dangerous and widely abused. So, perhaps marijuana — a relatively safe medicinal herb that could actually help and heal many people — is not the drug we should be arguing about. Perhaps we should further tackle our society’s views towards its acceptable drugs, and try to lower the death rates associated with these incredibly deadly yet incredibly legal drugs.