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Violence, Anger, Explosions: Children in Danger

(Part two of Marijuana and Child Neglect/Abuse. Last week we published an article about neglect; this week we cover violence, anger and explosions.)   A 15-year old boy living in fear of his violent father was afraid to go home and confided in a friend’s family.  The friend’s mom told police, who went to investigate the child abuse. They found out more, accidentally discovering an illegal, indoor marijuana grow.  Yet marijuana activists tell us they are calm and non-violent.

Butane hash oil explosions are another way children surrounded by marijuana face grave danger.  In Medford, Oregon, a 12-year old girl suffered many broken bones when she had to jump from the 2nd floor of the apartment building to escape the flames.

After three children died in Colorado because of parental neglect while parents smoked pot followed by a string of hash oil explosions with children at home, it should have been easy to pass child protection laws in Colorado.  On April 27, 2014, an 8-month old baby had be rescued from the 2nd floor of a burning townhouse in Littleton, after a father and his girlfriend sparked a fire by burning hash oil.   The neighbor whose adjoining townhouse was damaged rescued their 4-year old.  Just 10 days earlier, on the 17th of April, a couple in Colorado Springs endangered their 3 children, the oldest a 7-year old, using fire to make dabs from hash oil.

Since the Alliance for Drug Endangered Children began in the 1990s, there are fewer meth lab explosions.  Instead, the promotion and legalization of marijuana has created one of its most dangerous by-products: hash oil explosions fueled by butane gas.   In short, it’s called BHO.

Hash Oil Explosions

As of early May, Colorado had experienced 31 hash oil explosions in 2014, 10 of them involving serious burns.  The  Colorado Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (CoDEC) has been taking steps protect children from the drug-using parents, but two child-protection bills failed to pass.

On April 1, 2014, state Senators Linda Newell and Andy Kerr introduced two Senate bills to strengthen protections for children whose parents’ drug usage, manufacture or cultivation put them in danger.   Unfortunately, an associate of the Drug Policy Alliance had written a letter to the Denver Post implying it was unfair to marijuana users.

The bills HB 177 and 178 were voted down at the beginning of May. The outcome was undermined by interests of the marijuana industry, marijuana users and politics.   When the city of Denver met September 16 to restrict unqualified individuals from making hash oil — the marijuana activists again objected.

After Failure to Pass Child Protection Bills

In mid-May, a Manitou Springs, Colorado, couple cooled the hash oil in the refrigerator.   The refrigerator door blew off and landed on the woman’s three-year old child.  Multiple charges of arson and child endangerment have been leveled against each of the parents in Colorado who put the lives of their children in danger.  They are indeed lucky that none of the children burned or died in the fires.

Making hash oil at home is perfectly legal in Colorado.   However, the state of Colorado should be blamed for putting the marijuana users’ freedom and the “good name” or reputation of marijuana ahead of the children.  The evidence is that the legalization of marijuana has put more children in harm’s way.

 Huge Problem in Other States, in West

Hash oil explosions are frequent in other states, too, particularly on the west coast.  On August 25, a man living in Santa Rosa, California, had an explosion and burned badly.  While he did not have children, the family next door with 5 children were put in the line of danger. Today, the LA Times reports of 20 hash oil explosions within the last year in San Diego County, California.  One of the 4 groups currently under investigation involved a child put in danger, and the offending party has been charged with child endangerment.

A recent hash oil explosion in San Diego
A recent hash oil explosion in San Diego

In May, the Oregonian reported that nine major hash oil blasts had occurred in Oregon since 2011, four of them in homes or hotel rooms where children, including a newborn, were present. In one case, a 12-year-old girl suffered multiple broken bones after leaping from the second floor of an apartment building rocked by a butane hash oil (BHO) explosion.

Last year a 10-day old and one-year old baby and two women suffered injuries from a hash oil explosion in Forest Grove, Oregon, the site of another extensive fire from making hash oil in January, 2014.    Two months ago, on July 22,  it was announced that the District Attorney in Seattle filed charges against seven who caused explosions in the state of Washington.

Anger Management

Marijuana users like to claim they don’t get mad and violent, like the cocaine addicts and some alcoholics routinely do.  If their marijuana usage leads to explosions, selfishness, abandonment, or narcissistic rage and anger, they fall into the same violent category as other substance abusers.

A case of violent child abuse erupted in Tampa, Florida in June. Christopher Finlayson, who babysat an 11-month old girl, tried to amuse her by tossing the child into the air.  He tripped and dropped the child face-first onto the floor. When the child continued to cry, Finlayson went into a moment of rage and he “lost it.” The baby was totally unresponsive when the mother returned home.  She took her to the hospital and authorities were called. The man admitted he had smoked a “blunt and a half” of marijuana the previous day and was unable to sleep the night before the incident.

Just a few days ago when police in Nevada went to investigate a case a suspected child abuse, they discovered a fetus in the freezer, with a gun and marijuana in the bassinet. This year authorities in Utah discovered that Megan Huntsman, heavy marijuana user, had buried 6 of her children over several years.

In July, four adults in south Modesto, California, pleaded no contest to severely beating a 7-week old girl. The child had several broken ribs, a lacerated liver and spleen and swelling on her brain. When authorities investigated the home 3 were used for growing marijuana for sale. They parents were charged with two counts of child cruelty, illegally growing with intent for sale, stealing electricity and damaging power lines.

According to a recent article “chronic [marijuana] users exhibit blunted emotional reaction to threat stimuli, which may also decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior.”  This study is one of many articles  or studies using data while trying to promote marijuana usage.  The study didn’t show what happens when one partner does marijuana while the other does not, sometimes a problem in abusive marriages.   It also did not track child abuse.

From the website, Marijuana Makes You Violent
From the website, Marijuana Makes You Violent

Why is marijuana likely to make some people violent, if using can cause a “blunted emotional reaction to threat?”  The nature of a psychologically addictive substance is that a person needs it to feel ok and to feel normal.   Take it away and there can be panic which results in anger.  Leah Allen tells the story of how her cool, chronically high father abused her mother.  Furthermore, disagreeing with the marijuana bloggers gets them so riled and angry.

What About DEA mistakes?

The tragedies of children lost to parents’ marijuana usage, and other drug usage, are larger than the widely-publicized mistakes made by the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA.  No teacher, parent, police agency, politician or worker of any sort is free from making mistakes.  This summer a story spread about a failed raid which resulted in a grenade hitting a 20-month old child.  It’s regretful that there was an injustice suffered by this child for that mistake.  However,  this baby and his parents will have their justice with law.   There will be no justice for the marijuana – endangered children, as long as the marijuana community holds all the cards.

It’s a tragedy that because “Drug Wars Don’t Work,” Americans have legitimized a very dangerous drug.  It’s a tragedy that the current anti-government trend spreading in American political circles also leads to more chaos and more abused children.

Based on the fire, anger, rage and explosions, we cannot continue this marijuana experiment if we are to have a saner, safer society.

Negligent Parents Let Three Children Die in Colorado

(Part one of two articles on Marijuana and Child Abuse/Neglect)

On November 27, 2012, three weeks after Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana, Heather Jensen, 24, kept her two-year old and four-year old sons in the car seats of an SUV, while she smoked marijuana and had sex in her boyfriend’s truck. She left the ignition on and turned the heater up so the boys wouldn’t freeze. When she returned 90 minutes later, the younger boy wasn’t breathing. The older boy died in the hospital a week later. Jensen had lost her husband, Eric, in a car accident six weeks earlier.   She has been sentenced to serve 10 years in prison.

Another Child Dies from Neglect

On January 13, 2014, two-year old Levi Welton died in a fire.  He and his four-year old brother had been left in a room alone, where the fire started.  Little Levi went into the closet to escape the flames. The parents, aged 27 and 33, were smoking pot in another room with friends.  They survived, along with the older son.  Julia and Christopher Welton have been charged with negligent child abuse causing death.   Logan County officials had investigated the parents previously for neglect.  Both boys had tested positive for THC, although the mother insisted she did not smoke pot around her sons.  A family friend who took custody of the surviving boy told a reporter that the county should have done more to take the children out of the home prior to the fire.

Two year old Levi Welton hid from the fire in a closet, while his parents smoked pot, in Sterling, CO.
Two-year old Levi Welton hid from the fire in a closet, while his parents smoked pot, in Sterling, CO. His four-year old brother survived.

Three children died in Colorado within 14 months, while the parents’ indulged in a marijuana.   The Colorado Alliance for Drug-Endangered Children (CoDEC, affiliated with national DEC) has been working for stronger child protection laws. On April 1, 2014, Senators Linda Newell and Andy Kerr introduced two Senate bills to strengthen protections for children whose parents’ drug usage, manufacture or cultivation put them in danger.

The bills didn’t pass.  Newell believes the bills were misconstrued by critics and that the outcome was undermined by interests of the pot industry and politics. Drug Policy Alliance had written a letter to the Denver Post suggesting it was unfair to marijuana users.

Marijuana and Child Neglect

“Don’t blame marijuana, blame the state.” some marijuana activists exclaim. Others say, “Bad parents will be bad parents, and marijuana has nothing to do with it.”

Parents Opposed to Pot blames the aggressive advocacy to legitimize marijuana for killing these three children. Those who praise cannabis refuse to see the irresponsible behaviors and outright neglect could have anything to do with marijuana. No one defends alcohol in the same way.  These parents loved their children.  With addiction, the object of addiction becomes more important than loved ones.  We need to stop minimizing these incidents, because they’re also happening in states without legalized marijuana.

On May 22, in Lakeland, Florida, an abandoned three-year old knocked on the door of his mother’s house for an hour, crying, before the neighbors discovered him. The mother and her boyfriend had been smoking pot and doing whip-its all morning and then went into the bedroom to nap.  Neither one of them had been supervising the boy who had gotten outside other times, even though they lived on a busy street. They told deputies that “marijuana should be legal anyways” and gave that as the reason they smoke pot all the time.

Tyler and William Jensen were happy-go-lucky boys before their death at ages 2 and 4. Negligence and impaired judgment from marijuana is to blame
Tyler and William Jensen were happy-go-lucky boys before their death at ages 2 and 4. Negligence and impaired judgment from marijuana is to blame. Photo original from Facebook.

At least one of the children who died in a hot car this summer was a victim of a marijuana. On July 24, Seth Jackson, the foster father, went to see his marijuana dealer in Wichita and left the 10-month girl in the sweltering heat while he got high. He came out two hours later, and she was dead. He and his partner had been foster parents previously, without known issues.

Why Marijuana and Parenting Don’t Mix

Each situation outlined above — including the ones which resulted in the three Colorado children who died — demonstrate how it’s typical for pot smokers to not realize the lapse of time. Marijuana smoking distorts the sense of time and space, and harms short-term memory.  Ideally, parents would never leave an infant or toddler for any period of time.  Sober parents, with normal functioning, would rush back to their children before the heat or cold could do harm.

It’s possible to sympathize with Heather Jensen for losing her husband, but her coping mechanisms are unacceptable.  The three parents living in Colorado – a state with medical marijuana since 2000 – may have been using marijuana as their crutch to escape the challenges and pains of life.  If a recreational user also starts using pot for anxiety, the anxiety is likely to become worse than it ever may have been had the user not started.  Lady Gaga explains the vicious cycle in her video.

Furthermore, those who begin using any addictive substance  before age 21 are more likely to become addicted. These people may have grown up to be decent parents had they not begun using marijuana. Though many people begin drugs because they come from tough or abusive situations, it’s not necessarily the case.  Where marijuana is legal or when people learn to use pot (or alcohol or prescription drugs) to medicate problems, they don’t learn healthy ways to get through the troubled times.

Another factor that could play into the impaired judgment of Seth Jackson, Heather Jensen, Julia Welton and Christopher Welton was the length of time they had been using marijuana. They ranged in age from 24 to 33. If they had begun smoking marijuana as teens, the part of the brain that deals with executive function could have become very impaired. The bad judgment, escapism and laziness could continue even when they aren’t smoking pot. Consistent pot smoking from teenage years into adulthood can prevent the normal process of growing into maturity.  Recent studies give evidence to these changes in the brain structure.

Last year a 24- year old mother in Centralia, WA, let her 22-month old son smoke from a bong, as friends laughed.
Last year a 24-year old mother in Centralia, WA, let her toddler son smoke from a bong, as friends laughed and encouraged it. A cell phone photo surfaced and she was arrested.

Pregnancy, Breast Feeding and Daycare

The use of marijuana is inappropriate because of the constant alertness needed for child care.  Plus, it messes with short-term memory. Users don’t always realize they’re impaired.

Tobacco smoking leads to health concerns and addiction, but it doesn’t impair the mind. Second hand smoke is bad for children, and many smoking parents make an effort not to do it with children around.  Many women quit when they become pregnant. Today there are moms who insist on smoking marijuana while pregnant, and even when they’re breast feeding.

The neighbor of a home daycare provider in Oregon reported she had seen the owner’s daughter outside smoking with a bong in front of the children.  Both the owner and her daughter were  medical marijuana cardholders.  The state investigated.  In August,  a state board told owners of four Oregon home-based day care centers will have to give up their medical marijuana cards or lose their licenses to care for children.

We know marijuana often brings about impaired judgment, forgetfulness and carelessness.   One 19-year old Arizona mother, who had smoked marijuana, drove off with her infant in a car seat, on the roof of the car.  Casey Anthony was a big party girl, but according to one of her friends, marijuana was her drug of choice. Without casting guilt on Amanda Knox, certainly heavy use of marijuana as a teen stunted her maturity and ability to function as a rational 19-year old in Italy.

It is estimated that 80% of all child abuse, neglect and endangerment is caused by by marijuana, alcohol or drugs. The problems of marijuana have specific relevance to judgment of time, memory and alertness.  They are not quite the same as with other substances.  Many tragedies can be avoided IF WE DON’T NORMALIZE MARIJUANA and make it legitimate for adults.

Marijuana Moms of Beverly Hills made big news last year when they declared that cannabis made them better moms, because it cut down on their anxiety. It’s a publicity stunt set up to promote the industry and bring Cheryl Shuman, the founder, fame.  If you have children and love them, or if you care for children, please don’t indulge and don’t spread the baloney that marijuana is safer than alcohol.  (Part two of this series is here.)

Out-of-State Money Funds Marijuana in Oregon

Congressman Earl Blumenauer isn’t voicing objections to the $1.5 million of out-of-state money to finance Measure 91,  the ballot to legalize marijuana in Oregon.   However, he supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of 2010, which prevents limits on campaign contributions from corporations and associations.   Like so many politicians, his inconsistency is puzzling.  It can only be understood if we imagine that he’s under the thumb of the marijuana industry.

Instead of complaining  of the out-of-state billionaires, the Congressman from Portland takes on the small-time public servants and volunteers.  These are people who would have presented the latest educational information on marijuana and other drugs,  to the smaller towns and cities in Oregon.  If Blumenauer had adequately looked into the studies of youth marijuana usage and other illicit drug usage of his state, he would have known that drug education is needed.   07_nonmedical use pain relievers past yearOregon ranks very high in all illicit drug usage, compared to other states.  (These maps were published late last year, using statistics from 2010-11)   Regarding the current heroin epidemic, and deaths from overdose,  it’s wise to ask why all alcohol and drug prevention programs get 48% less in federal funds than they received 10 years ago!

The money in question was $15,000.  A non-profit prevention group that receives federal funds was going to use the money to put on a summit in Madras, Oregon, followed by a tour.

Voters should have much more of an issue with more than $1.5 million — 100 x the amount provided for the summit —  that outsiders have spent to legalize marijuana in their state.

Rep. Blumenauer has called for a federal investigation into whether taxpayer dollars are being improperly spent on marijuana education events that he said appear to be aimed at influencing voters to oppose the November ballot measure that would legalize the drug.    Kevin Sabet of Project SAM was to be a speaker at 12 localities around the state, just as he had been educating in Oregon years before.  At this time, the program has now been reduced substantially, although a district attorney has been raising funds. This particular summit is a continuation of educational events that takes place every two years in that community and has been going on for over a decade.  Oregon does not have a state-sponsored program of drug education that provides education to the counties.  Local prevention coordinators must do that job.

Blumenauer had taken aim at Mandi Puckett who left her job at Best Care Treatment Services in Madras, to become coordinator of Vote No on 91-Oregon campaign.  Puckett explained in a Press Release on Friday: “My job was to help apply for State and Federal grants and work with the local coalition to use that money to educate people about the dangers of using addictive substances.”  Prevention education efforts, like the Madras Summit, are often a required component of grant applications.  The educational summit in Madras, followed by the tour of Oregon cities was planned between Fall of 2012 to Spring of 2014,  before Measure 91 was on the ballot. There were various stages for approval of the tour, before the state granted final approval in writing from the Oregon Health Authority.  “Later, when it was announced the measure would be on the November ballot, we took extra steps to include in our work plan and advise presenters to not speak about the ballot measure. Our goal was to educate, not lobby,” said Puckett.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., talks with reporters September 5 about a series of marijuana education events. (Jeff Mapes/The Oregonian)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., talks with reporters September 5 about a series of marijuana education events. (Jeff Mapes/The Oregonian)

So as it appears, prevention coordinators were required in their “federally-approved work plans” to educate about alcohol and drugs, including marijuana.  The state, via Oregon Health Authority, was involved in that process and granted approval for the Summit and the tour, which was in planning long before Measure 91 was on the ballot.  Then in August, when advocates in favor of Measure 91 learned of the approved educational events, is when the problem occurred.  According to documents provided by the Oregonian, representatives of Measure 91 and a member of Congress, who is a supporter of Measure 91, lodged false accusations against prevention educators funded to do the very work they were approved to do.

Not Tiny Grants, but Big-time Marijuana Money from the PACs

As one of Congress’ leading advocates for the marijuana industry, Blumenauer isn’t questioning the use of huge donors with no connection to his Congressional district or state.  New Approach Oregon, the group sponsoring Measure 91, plans to spend $2.3 on television ads, while the opposition has no money to advertise.  Here’s the group’s financial status:

PAC Amount raised Amount spent
New Approach Oregon 2014 $599,455.82 $599,455.82
New Approach Oregon $950,168.16 $912,890.50
Drug Policy Action of Oregon $0.00 $0.00
Total $1,549,623.98 $1,512,346.32

Private, out-of-funds state funds donated earlier this year are:                            Peter Lewis & his family                      $350,000                                       George Soros                                              $160,000

Soros is connected to the Drug Policy Action PAC.  Because not all donors to PACs are made public, it is a bit difficult to sort the information.  None of the big donors appears to be from Oregon.

According to Ballotpedia, as of July 30, 2014, the No on 91 group had zero money, but Measure 91 had received more than $1.5 million.   The top 5 contributors were:

New Approach PAC $250,000
Drug Policy Action $200,000
Drug Policy Action Fund for Oregon $150,000
Philip Harvey $100,000
Henry van Ameringen $100,000

 

Soros lives in New York.  Peter Lewis was a Florida resident when he died in November, and his sons have continued to contribute to the campaign.   Philip Harvey is from Washington, DC, and Henry van Ameringen lives in New York.  They serve on the New Approach Oregon Committee, along with Cari Tuna, wife of a Facebook co-founder.

How Marijuana Money Controlled the Oregon Election in 2012

In Oregon, the marijuana lobby succeeded in determining the outcome of the 2012 race for Attorney General.   The winning candidate in the Democratic primary for Attorney General had received the largest portion of her campaign money from marijuana industry supporters.  These donations came from: Drug Policy Action committee,  $80,000; Arizona resident John Sperling, $70,000, and Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement, which spent $53,000 on radio ads.  (The largest non-marijuana donation was $25,000)  There were to be no Republican candidates running in the primary or general election.  Since it was a ballot by mail and only 25% of the Democrats voted,  marijuana advocates got out their vote.

Other voters were led to think the main issue was that the opponent, interim US Attorney General Dwight Holton, had not been a resident of Oregon very long.   In reality, Holton had taken a tough stance on drugs, allowing some federal raids on marijuana producers in violation of law.  He had called the state’s medical marijuana program a “train wreck.”   Medical marijuana came to Oregon after a ballot vote in 1998, but it didn’t come under state regulations until this year.

Winner Ellen Rosenbaum had promised not to prosecute medical marijuana.  John Sperling, also a big marijuana donor, was the founder of the University of Phoenix.  At the time, Oregon’s Justice department was part of a multi-state investigation into his school and other for-profit universities.  Only 25% of the Democrats voted, so it is clear that radio commercials sponsored by pro-pot groups, in addition to Rosenblum’s campaign ads, got out the “weed vote.”   Rosenblum won by 64% to 36%, and the marijuana groups  bragged about their victory.

Two years ago the big out-of-state donors financed marijuana legalization campaigns in Washington and Colorado, but they did not donate to Measure 80,  Oregon’s failed legalization initiative of November 2012.   However, by June 2012, BIG MARIJUANA had already funded and controlled the race for Attorney General that year, which promised that medical marijuana in the state would — relatively speaking — continue unregulated.

 Key Components of Measure 91

This year’s initiative,  Measure 91, would place marijuana regulation under the state liquor board.  The premises of Measure 91 are that legalization would 1) Eliminate 12,800 arrests (The number of marijuana arrests was actually around 2700, politifact.com found.   2) Regulation would do a better job at keeping it away from children (only with good prevention education!) and 3) It would eliminate drug cartels and give profits to the state instead of criminals (highly speculative, with no concrete evidence).

New Approach Oregon hired ECONorthwest, a Portland firm,  to estimate the potential tax revenues of a legalized marijuana industry, if this measure is approved. The estimate of $38.5 million for the first year was to be based on a Colorado’s figures, from the viewpoint of cost/benefit analysis.  Currently, Colorado is taking in much lower taxes than they originally planned.

Although the tax rate would be lower than Colorado’s tax, the experience in Colorado and Washington shows that black markets don’t end with legalization.  Marijuana has been decriminalized in Oregon since 1973, and medical marijuana was approved in 1998. The Oregon Medical Association does not recommend marijuana for medical reasons, or otherwise.  After 15 years, Oregon only began regulating medical marijuana this year, after passage of House Bill 3460.

Why BIG MARIJUANA won in Colorado

The Marijuana industry targeted Colorado for legalization because its largest city, Denver, is in the center of the state.  The Denver – Colorado Springs television market is the only place in the state with a sizable population.   Television ads could target the Denver region, while other parts of the state  were less likely to know marijuana was on the ballot. The Marijuana Industry may have hoped the same thing could happen in Oregon this year.  Possibly they took issue with Madras summit because voters in outlying areas would be getting more factual information about marijuana.  As in Colorado, voting in Oregon is done by mail in the weeks leading up to the election date.

Oregon compares well to Colorado, because both states have a high number of pain pill abusers and other drug abusers.  States with medical marijuana tend to have higher percentages abuse, dependence and teen marijuana usage.  It’s not clear if the difference reflects medical marijuana or the low perception of risk from using pot.  An exception is Maine, which has had medical marijuana since 1998, but its percentage  of youth marijuana use and all drug  use is significantly lower than in nearby states and it can be attributed to good prevention education programs and staff.

States that have high amount of illicit drug usage tend be the states where the highest percentage of teens begin using marijuana at a young age, Oregon included. There’s good reason to believe the Summit in Madras and the entire 12-city tour is very much needed

We ask Representative Blumenauer and other politicians to stop pandering to the marijuana industry and caving to their lobbyists.

Drug Policy Reform

By  Robert L. DuPont, MD,President, Institute of Behavior and Health, a  501(c)3 non-profit organization working to reduce illegal drug use through the power of good ideas.

Often overlooked in discussions of drug policy today is the nature of the drug problem. The global drug problem can be traced to the innate nature of the human brain. The mammalian brain is extremely vulnerable to chemicals that stimulate brain reward. These chemicals are drugs of abuse. They produce far more intense brain reward than any natural reward, even sex and food. The repeated use of drugs of abuse leads to addiction. In its definition of addiction, the American Society of Addiction Medicine notes that it is “characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

Addiction is a chronic, often fatal, illness that typically begins in adolescence. The earlier an individual uses drugs of abuse, including alcohol and marijuana, the more likely it is that the person will develop a substance use disorder later in life. The best way to prevent addiction is to prevent the use of these substances. As a 13-year-old said to me years ago, “I don’t want to try cigarettes because I might like them.”

Modern Drug Use Epidemic

While the biology of addiction has not changed for millions of years, over the past half century drug use has changed dramatically. In the modern drug abuse epidemic, whole populations are exposed to a mind-bending array of drugs of abuse by powerful routes of administration. This has never happened before in human history.

Marijuana, the most widely used illegal drug, has been transformed in the time since the peak of its use in the United States in 1978. The potency of marijuana, as measured by the level of THC (the primary active cannabinoid in marijuana), has tripled over this time. New modes of marijuana consumption have increased the potency of marijuana delivery. For example, butane hash oil contains dramatically higher levels of THC, with concentrations up to 90 percent.

The addiction landscape also has changed as a result of the non-medical use of legal prescription drugs. Eighty percent of the global opioid supply is consumed by Americans who constitute less than five percent of the world’s population. With widespread medical use of opioid analgesics has come an epidemic of opiate dependence. The number of drug overdose deaths in the US has surpassed highway fatalities. The widespread use of prescription drugs has led to changes in the demographics of heroin use and subsequent heroin overdoses. Forty years ago heroin addiction was mostly confined to young inner-city men who often were involved in criminal activities. The new demography of heroin is the result of the demography of those that use pain medications non-medically. An estimated half of young heroin users previously abused prescription opioids prior to their heroin use. Heroin addiction has reached all parts of the country, especially small towns and rural areas, and is no longer limited to minority, male or lower income populations.

The drug epidemic continues to evolve in complex ways even as the public attitudes toward the use of drugs are shifting. Attitudes today are far more permissive toward the “recreational” use of drugs, especially marijuana. National polls indicate that a growing majority of Americans now favor legalization of marijuana for “recreational” use by adults.

Well-Funded Lobby Pushes for Marijuana Normalization

The well-funded lobby promoting the normalization of the use of marijuana (and other drugs) is based on the erroneous premise that marijuana is not only safe but also beneficial. (Ed. note: Three billionaires have spent an estimated $200,000,000 to legalize marijuana.) In contrast to this view, the science is clear that marijuana use is a serious threat to health, safety and productivity. As the negative impact of legal marijuana in the states of Colorado and Washington – and in the states that permit “medical” marijuana – is more widely understood, attitudes toward permissive drug use will shift once again.

The US, and the entire world, is at a crossroads in drug policy today with two oppositional perspectives on the future of drug policy. On the one hand is the vision on which current global drug policy was established in the first decades of the 20th century with the US in the lead which separates medical use from non-medical use of drugs with abuse potential. Under this framework, the goal of drug policy is to limit the use of drugs of abuse to medical uses only. Drugs of abuse are provided only through the process of physicians’ prescriptions and dispensed at pharmacies in a closed system and only for the treatment of diseases. The use of drugs of abuse outside of this very limited medical practice and their sale is illegal, punishable by the criminal law.

This well-established formulation of drug policy now is threatened by an alternative vision that treats drugs of abuse the way alcohol and tobacco are treated: through regulated production and sale to adults for legal use for any purpose. The campaign for this alternative drug policy begins with the legalization of marijuana but the stakes are far greater because it applies to all drugs of abuse and because there are enormous potential profits to be earned in this new marketplace. This move erases the sharp line between legal and illegal drugs. Erasing this line frustrates prevention and it opens the floodgates to widespread drug use.

Addiction Goes Up When Percent Usage Increases

When considering the potential public health impact of the legalization of drugs of abuse, including marijuana, it is helpful to consider the rates of use of the two legal drugs. Among Americans age 12 and older, 52 percent used alcohol and 27 percent used tobacco in the past month whereas 9 percent used any illegal drug. Only 7 percent of Americans used marijuana. Treating marijuana – to say nothing of other drugs of abuse – the way alcohol and tobacco are treated most certainly will increase availability and with it dramatically increase the level of marijuana use to a level that is similar to the use of the two currently legal drugs.

Is increased marijuana use and subsequent proportional increases in marijuana addiction in the interest of the nation’s public health? I don’t think so. The use of alcohol and tobacco are the two leading causes of preventable illness and death in the United States. Adding a third legal drug will add to the devastation that these legal drugs already generate.

NFIAAmericaondrugs
Usage can only go up if legalized.      Graphic Source: National Families in Action

What is the better answer for the future of drug policy, if it is not the legalization and regulation of drugs of abuse? The future of an effective drug policy lies in finding ways to reduce the use of drugs of abuse that are compatible with modern values and laws. This search for better ways to reduce illegal drug use is the focus and the agenda of the Institute for Behavior and Heath, Inc. (www.ibhinc.org). There are many good new ideas for drug policy, all based on the recognition of the vulnerability of the brain to the excessive, unnatural stimulation of brain reward mechanism by drugs of abuse which leads to addiction for millions of people and the resulting devastation suffered by these individuals, their families and their communities.

Rather than embrace drug legalization, we must develop innovative policies and programs that reduce the use of drugs of abuse and we must provide assistance, including quality treatment that achieves long-term recovery, to those with substance use disorders.

Robert L. DuPont, M.D.
President, Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc.
Former Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (1973-1978)
Former White House Drug Chief (1973-1977)

(Editor’s Note–Original article, “The Changing State of Drug Policy,” is reprinted with permission from the Institute of Behavior and Health website, where footnotes align exactly with text.  It publishes several excellent articles about the influence of drug policy on addiction, drugged driving,etc.)

 


American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2011). Public Policy Statement: Definition of Addiction. Chevy Chase, MD: American Society of Addiction Medicine. Available: http://www.asam.org/advocacy/find-a-policy-statement/view-policy-statement/public-policy-statements/2011/12/15/the-definition-of-addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. NIH Pub No. 10-5606. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. Available: http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/sciofaddiction.pdf
Drug Enforcement Administration. (2014). The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse. Washington, DC: Drug Enforcement Administration Demand Reduction Section, US Department of Justice. Available: http://www.justice.gov/dea/docs/dangers-consequences-marijuana-abuse.pdf
Manchikanti, L., Fellows, B., Ailinani, H., & Pampati, V. (2010). Therapeutic use, abuse, and nonmedical use of opioids: a ten-year perspective. Pain Physician, 13(5), 401-435. Available: http://www.painphysicianjournal.com/2010/september/2010;13;401-435.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Prescription Drug Overdose in the United States: Fact Sheet. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/overdose/facts.html
Kuehn, B. M. (2014). Driven by prescription drug abuse, heroin use increases among suburban and rural whites. JAMA, 312(2), 118-119.
Johnson, K. (2014, April 17). Heroin is a growing threat across USA, police say. USA Today. Available: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/16/heroin-overdose-addiction-threat/7785549/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013, April). Heroin. DrugFacts. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. Available: http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/drugfacts_heroin_final_0.pdf
Cicero, T. J., Ellis, M. S., Surratt, H. L., & Kurtz, S. P. (2014). The changing face of heroin use in the United States: a retrospective analysis of the past 50 years. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 821-826.
Pew Research Center. (2014, April 2). America’s New Drug Policy Landscape. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Available: http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/04-02-14%20Drug%20Policy%20Release.pdf
Volkow, N.D., Baler, R.D., Compton, W.M., & Weiss, S.R.B. (2014). Adverse health effects of marijuana use. The New England Journal of Medicine, 370(23), 2219-2227.
Richter, K. P., & Levy, S. (2014, June 11). Big marijuana—lessons from big tobacco [Perspective]. The New England Journal of Medicine. Available: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1406074
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


Established in 1978, the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc. (IBH) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working to reduce illegal drug use through the power of good ideas. IBH websites include: www.ibhinc.org, www.StopDruggedDriving.org, www.PreventTeenDrugUse.org, and www.PreventionNotPunishment.org.