There's a Drug That Kills Someone Every 10 Seconds Worldwide — And It's Perfectly Legal

The news: Alcohol kills approximately 3.3 million people worldwide each year, or about one person every 10 seconds, according to a World Health Organization statement released on Monday. That's more than AIDS, tuberculosis and violence combined, and more than 1 out of every 20 deaths.

According to the "Global status report on alcohol and health 2014," 5.9% of deaths worldwide are attributable to alcohol. Even more staggeringly, it's 7.6% of all male deaths. (HIV/AIDS is responsible for 2.8%, tuberculosis 1.7%, and violence just 0.9%.) That's a shocking amount of deaths that can be attributed to this perfectly legal drug. 

This should really change: As the report states, alcohol abuse is a global pandemic and governments need to take action to protect their citizens. The best solutions are higher taxes, raising legal drinking ages and regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages. The WHO also calls on governments to conduct national awareness-raising campaigns and provide treatment services for alcoholics.

"More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption," says Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. "The report clearly shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol."

Most deaths from alcohol come from associated cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but also cirrhosis and increased susceptibility to disease. Another 17.1% of all alcohol-related deaths involved a vehicular collision or other accidents, while others still can be attributed to alcohol-induced violence and abuse. 


Image Credit: WHO

Around the world: Regionally speaking, the WHO points out that with increasing global wealth, nations like India and China are taking up drinking at higher rates and increasingly becoming victims of alcohol. But in particular, eastern Europe and Russia were singled out for particular concern. In Russia, men who drink averaged 32 liters of pure alcohol a year, nearly twice that of the average drinker around the rest of the world.

Stateside: Given that good-old-fashioned alcohol is attributable to so many deaths a year, the war on drugs — with its racist implications, failure to reduce use and out-of control spending — seems a little reactionary. Yet alcohol is legal, while the federal and state governments devote considerable energy to locking up Americans for drugs every year. (In 2011 alone, 330,000 people, or one in every thousand Americans, were imprisoned for a drug-related offense.) If the government is so committed to fighting substance abuse, then alcohol would be the logical target. (Of course, they did try that before, it just didn't really work out that well.)

And by the way, the direct death toll from marijuana overdoses still stands at zero

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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