Delving deeper into the data | AspenTimes.com

Delving deeper into the data

Dear Editor:J. Stevens Ayers, in his response (Letters to the editor, Oct. 19) to my letter on drug-related deaths, makes some valid general points on statistics, but doesn’t address the actual data his department collected or reveal his own biases.First, Ayers neglected to write that he is actively on the “committee to re-elect Bob Braudis.” His perspective is hardly an objective one.Second, Ayers wrote “we certainly have our share of deaths and problems, but there is no evidence to suggest ours are out of proportion to the rest of the country’s.” The data strongly disagree. In deriving a death rate, I looked at longer term (four years) and one-year fatalities. I used a simple, transparent methodology – dividing the coroners’ reported drug-related deaths by population to arrive at a rate. This methodology is the same used by the group Common Sense for Drug Policy (www.csdp.org) to get a U.S. rate, 60 per million in the U.S. (actually less than the cities I originally cited).Pitkin County’s rate equates to 355 per million in 2005, and its longer term rate is half that. In other words, using an apples-to-apples methodology, Pitkin has six times the U.S. rate for 2005, and three times long term. That, by any measure, is “out of proportion.” And it’s important to note that when talking about proportionality, using actual rates is scientifically valid.Third, Dr. Ayers claims my drug-related deaths analysis is “a misrepresentation of facts” that is “inaccurate and misleading.” Possibly true, if one were going to do a multicity, complex analysis over a population base of millions. However, our base is smaller and, thus, accounting for “complicating factors” is much easier. For instance, Dr. Ayers asks, “How many of those deaths were tourists?”He only has to take a quick look at his own data to answer his question. Of the five drug-related deaths in 2005, four of these tragedies were overdoses involving long-term residents (not tourists), and one is a vehicular homicide where the residence is unclear. Thus, at least 80 percent of the fatalities were confirmed locals in Pitkin. I leave out the specific names and incidents out of respect to the victims and families, but these cases are public records that can be verified by any resident.When you look at the data, you don’t need a degree from MIT (I have two) to understand that there are very strong indications of a hard-drug problem that needs addressing.I definitely understand that the author, Braudis and thousands in our valley truly care about these issues, and there are many organizations set up to help deal with the problems of hard drugs. What is in question is the issue of hard drugs in our county and the Sheriff’s department’s policies. The facts remain that 1) we have a drug-related death rate much higher than the nation’s, 2) the Sheriff’s office is currently not involved in any drug educational programs, and 3) Magnuson promises to restart a drug education program and proactive involvement with the schools if elected.Michael BrylawskiSnowmass

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