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So the drug mephedrone didn’t actually kill those two young men from Scunthorpe then? Funny that, because their tragic deaths are widely accepted to have been the tipping point that led to the banning of mephedrone – yet toxocology reports say that 18-year-old Louis Wainwright and 19-year-old Nicholas Smith hadn’t even taken it. Well, not on the night they died, at least. We’re still waiting to find out what did contribute to their deaths. Not that it will be any consolation to their poor friends and family.

So was the ban on mephedrone a knee-jerk reaction? Probably. Having written about legal highs, however, I am pretty sure that it won’t be long until another party drug is doing the rounds. For the purpose of research, I asked a friend who has taken mephedrone what it was like. A bit of a mild buzz, he said, but nothing approaching the high you get from MDMA (that’s ecstasy to you and me, cool people refer to it by its chemical acronym, apparently).

Well then, I thought, were people taking mephedrone because it had the desired effect, albeit a mild one, or simply because it was legal and widely available? And does banning a drug actually stop people taking it, or even save lives? Surely using an illegal drug rather than a legal one is part of the thrill, so by banning a drug aren’t you actually making it more popular?

To answer my questions I decided to find out how many people die as a result of taking drugs. The latest figures I could find from the Office for National Statistics were published in 2007, that is the figures for deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales during 2006. Here are the stats for the main illegal, so-called recreational ones:

Heroin and morphine: 713 deaths
Methadone: 241
Cocaine (including crack): 190
All amphetamines: 92
(of which MDMA/ecstasy): 48
Cannabis: 17
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB): 7

All of which makes interesting reading, right? But the most interesting part is yet to come.

In 2006, there were 6,627 deaths where alcohol was mentioned on the death certificate – though admittedly this is the figure for the UK, not just England and Wales.

Meanwhile the national annual average for deaths where smoking was mentioned on the death certificate for the years 1998-2002 is estimated at 86,500.

Neither smoking or drinking alcohol is banned in this country, so you can safely assume that a great deal more people use one or both of them because they are both legal and widely available (not to mention socially acceptable, at least in the case of alcohol these days). No wonder the figures for deaths related to them are way higher than those for the illegal drugs.

All of which suggests that making drugs illegal does work after all. Problem is, why is a death caused by alcohol or smoking acceptable (in the eyes of the law, I hasten to add), yet a death caused by an illegal drug is not?