Over the course of this book, we have examined many aspects of a particularly complex problem. In this chapter, we summarise the major findings from each of the areas covered and, briefly, look to the future.
Why should society care about drug-related death?
The question posed early in this book was: Does drug-related death matter? While it is undeniable that drug use and drug-related mortality have increased, should this be seen as a significant concern for society? As we saw, arguments could be made that these deaths are self-inflicted, and may even be of benefit to society due to reductions in crime and disease (Chapter 1). If we exclude simple compassion, which not all in a society would share, can the allocation of attention and resources to this problem be justified?
As was seen, the argument that death due to illicit drug use is an essentially self-inflicted harm does not stand up to any close intellectual scrutiny. Drug dependence is not an act of free will made in the absence of precipitating causes. There are a number of well-delineated psychosocial factors that engender dependent illicit drug use, most particularly the clinical picture of a “shattered childhood”. Furthermore, and most importantly, we have seen that the majority of drug-related fatalities occur amongst drug-dependent individuals.