Some Numbers on Drugs & Deaths

Thursday, 19 February 2015

There’s lots of Australian attention focussed on the fate of two would-be drug importers caught in Bali and possibly facing death in front of a firing squad very soon. A bunch of facts and figures:

• The ‘Bali 9’ had 8.3kg of heroin between them and apart from the two death sentences the other seven are facing sentences of 20 years or life.
• Van Tuong Nguyen – Australian but Vietnamese by birth – caught in Singapore with 396 grams (0.4kg) of heroin – death by hanging in 2005
• Kevin Barlow (Australian and British) and Brian Chambers (Australian) – caught in Malaysia with 142 grams of heroin – death by hanging in 1986

Then there’s the Pong Su foursome – Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean – caught in Australia importing 125kg of very pure North Korean (well the North Koreans arranged things) heroin in 2003. They’re currently serving sentences of 13 to 16 years (minimum). Appeals in 2009 reduced their sentences by up to two years. All the North Koreans – 27 crew, four senior crew and officers – got off. One crew had drowned while bringing the heroin ashore. If the crew weren’t guilty their ship – the Pong Su – clearly was, it was towed offshore and sunk.

‘If they’d got the heroin into Australia they would have killed lots of Australians,’ some enthusiastic supporters of death sentences for drug importers have suggested. Really? Nobody forces you to buy heroin. It’s not like a gun pointed at your head with somebody else pulling the trigger. And does heroin kill a lot of people?

• Drug overdoses killed 1383 people in Australia in 2011, but there were about three times as many deaths due to prescription drugs as for heroin.
• That death rate means more people die from drugs than from road accidents – down to 1193 in 2013
• Alcohol is much worse – 5,554 alcohol deaths (some of them road accidents of course) in 2010
• Tobacco is much worse again – the figures are old, but 14,901deaths in 2004-05
• Guns are non-starters – only an average of 232 deaths a year over the past 10 years. Of course if we shot ourselves at the same rate that Americans achieve we’d be looking at well over 2000 deaths a year, making guns worse than cars, motorcycles, bicycles, prescription drugs and heroin combined.

Conclusions, if you’re going to import heroin to Australia get caught in Australia, not in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Perhaps being a North Korean will help as well.

Australian cigarette packs▲ Australian cigarette packs, the idea is to discourage you from smoking. When heroin is finally legalised and produced with great efficiency in Tasmania (they already grow the opium poppies there, legally for prescription drug production) the packaging will presumably be equally discouraging.

Curiously no country I know of sentences people to death or even long term imprisonment for selling cigarettes. Except if you sell them one at a time in New York. Alcohol dealers don’t get treated so nicely in some Muslim countries although even in Saudi Arabia they’re likely to flog you rather than behead you.