Wednesday, January 7, 2015

CDC data on alcohol deaths highlight why marijuana reforms could improve public health

As highlighted by this new CNN article, headlined "Alcohol poisoning kills 6 people a day," new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the huge public health problems and costs resulting from the only currently fully legal intoxicant.  Here are the details:

By the end of today, an average of six people will have died from alcohol poisoning, and it's a "surprising group" that's dying more than any other, according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That adds up to an average of 2,221 people in the United States -- a conservative estimate, according to the CDC — dying annually, making it one of the leading preventable causes of death.  The numbers come from death certificate data collected from 2010 to 2012.  However, earlier research shows most of the 38 million or more Americans who admit to binge drinking say they actually drink about eight drinks in two to three hours and they do this on average four times per month.

When you are suffering from alcohol poisoning, your liver can't keep up with the amount of alcohol in your body.  Alcohol is a toxin and the liver has to filter it out of your blood.  What the liver can't filter out backs up into your bloodstream. If the blood alcohol concentration in your bloodstream becomes too high, it has a severe impact on your mental and physical self....

While college students get a bad rap for binge drinking, the study found it's not typically college age people who die from drinking too much. In what the CDC said was a surprise, it found that white men between the ages of 35 and 64 are dying most often from alcohol poisoning.  That demographic accounts for 76% of the deaths....

Thirty percent of the people who died were considered alcoholics.  Alcohol-attributed deaths cost the country in terms of workplace productivity and in the number of accidents they cause, which cost about $223.5 billion, according to 2006 figures.

Ileana Arias, the CDC's principal deputy director who helped release the report, called Tuesday for more effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking....  Arias said binge drinking is a serious and "critical health issue facing this nation."

There is, critically, no evidence yet to support the supposition that marijuana reform will lead to a significant decrease in binge drinking. But there are reasons to hope that some binge drinkers might be inclined (or even encouraged) to use marijuana as a substitute for alcohol at least sometimes. To my knowledge, nobody has ever died from marijuana poisoning.

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