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The Failed War on Drugs?
Sunday night, April 19th, on the Prescription Addiction Radio Show, Judge Jim Gray, a Superior Court judge in Orange County, California and the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It spoke with host Larry Golbom and myself about his proposals to address the drug epidemic in our country.
Judge Gray is an articulate and thoughtful man who has seen the countless numbers of repeat drug offenders and has determined that several things must be done:
- Take the money out of selling and distributing these drugs
- Strictly regulate the distribution of these drugs through legal channels
- Educate people as to the actual effects of drugs
While Larry and I were in agreement about education being needed, we both are very doubtful that simply taking the profit motive away and regulating the distribution of illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth and heroin is the answer.
In most states, like Florida, the deaths from overdoses of legal and highly regulated prescription drugs like OxyContin and methadone far exceed the deaths from illegal street drugs. We posed this question to the Judge: If there are abuses of these Schedule II drugs that require a prescription from a medical doctor, how would he propose regulating these dangerous street drugs so that they would not be similarly abused? Judge Gray did not have time, due to the constraints of an hour show, to really address this issue, but to me it is critical.
IS MARIJUANA HARMLESS?
During our discussion, I explained to Judge Gray that almost all of the addicted people who came to Novus were daily smoking marijuana, and often marijuana was their first abused drug. The Judge responded by citing a study that found that 80% of the people who smoked marijuana did not go on to illegal drugs. I was not able to further discuss this study with the Judge, but If it is the same study that I saw, it also said that people who routinely smoked marijuana had a much higher likelihood than 20% of using illegal drugs. Of course, the real omitted data is that I believe that the study was only looking at people using illegal drugs and not at the number of people who abused legal drugs like OxyContin which is interchangeable with heroin.
We also did not have time to discuss some basic facts about marijuana that were contained in our October 29, 2007 Newsletter. Here are some:
- More young people are now in treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcohol or for all other illegal drugs combined.
- Marijuana affects alertness, concentration, perception, coordination, and reaction time— skills that are necessary for safe driving. A roadside study of reckless drivers in Tennessee found that 33 percent of all subjects who were not under the influence of alcohol and who were tested for drugs at the scene of their arrest tested positive for marijuana.
- Students who smoke marijuana get lower grades and are less likely to graduate from high school, compared with their nonsmoking peers.
- A study of 129 college students found that, among those who smoked the drug at least 27 of the 30 days prior to being surveyed, critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning were significantly impaired, even after the students had not taken the drug for at least 24 hours. These “heavy” marijuana abusers had more trouble sustaining and shifting their attention and in registering, organizing, and using information, than did the study participants who had abused marijuana no more than three of the previous 30 days. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level all of the time.
- Workers who smoke marijuana are more likely than their coworkers to have problems on the job. Several studies associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover.
- A study among postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and a 75 percent increase in absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use.
- The British Lung Foundation reports that smoking three or four marijuana joints is as bad for your lungs as smoking 20 tobacco cigarettes.
- Marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke. Using marijuana may promote cancer of the respiratory tract, disrupt the immune system and heighten the risk of lung infection, chronic cough, bronchitis and emphysema.
- In a 2003 study, researchers in England found that smoking marijuana for even less than six years causes a marked deterioration in lung function. The study suggests that marijuana use may rob the body of antioxidants that protect cells against damage that can lead to heart disease and cancer.
- Marijuana users have more suicidal thoughts and are four times more likely to report symptoms of depression than people who never used the drug.
- Young people who use marijuana weekly are nearly four times more likely than nonusers to engage in violence.
- More than 41 percent of male arrestees in sampled U.S. cities tested positive for marijuana.
This data is very disturbing. Could you substitute the word “alcohol” or “prescribed opioid” for “marijuana” and have many of the same answers? I think that there is no question that would be true.
IS MAKING ILLEGAL STREET DRUGS LEGAL THE ANSWER?
My answer is no for many reasons. Here are some:
- When you make something legal you legitimize it. One of the problems with talking to people about alcohol use is that it is legal. One of the problems with teen drug use of narcotics is that they are legal. They are prescribed by a medical doctor and can be obtained at the local drug store.
- There is no way to effectively regulate the sale and distribution of these dangerous illegal drugs that will keep them out of the hands of our children. Even if you argue that adults are responsible for their own actions, how do you justify making it easier and far less expensive to purchase these deadly drugs and put them in the hands of more people? Just like with liquor now, it is impossible to control the legal purchases that are sold to minors. Again, the regulation of prescription narcotics is highly regulated, but our patients tell us how easy it is for them to get these drugs on the street.
- At this time, many people are going to heroin because the competition from OxyContin, legal heroin, has brought the price of heroin down. Another result of this competition is that the purity of heroin is increasing. The Drug Enforcement Agency has said that in the 1970’s heroin was only about 10% to 15% pure, but now it is between 80% to 90% pure. If we legalize heroin and make it cheaper than OxyContin, then are we not just going to see more of our people die from heroin overdoses?
- Where are we going to purchase heroin, marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth and the other illegal drugs? Are we going to allow these dangerous drugs to be produced by anyone or are we going to let Big Pharma control the manufacture and distribution of these drugs? If this is the case, then I am sure that Big Pharma will support this because even though these street drugs will directly compete with their legal drugs, they will still make a profit and that is Big Pharma’s only concern.
- It is just not logical that legalizing and regulating the distribution of these drugs will reduce the amount of drug use. Narcotics like heroin and OxyContin are not like alcohol. Many people can drink alcohol for two weeks and not be alcoholics and are able to stop without painful withdrawal symptoms. However, many people who use narcotics and cocaine for a two week period find that they are now dependent, if not addicted, and find that they can’t stop without painful withdrawals.
No one argues that the War on Drugs is working—particularly if you look at the legal versions of these same illegal drugs in the hands of our people.
However, the answer is not to simply create more easily available drugs so that more people can be trapped by these terrible substances. The answer is to educate people about drugs and the real way to handle life.
The answer is not to encourage needle exchanges so that users of heroin can get clean needles, but to provide effective treatment so that these people can be free of drugs.
The answer is not to encourage people to further reduce our workplace productivity by using these illegal drugs or to further slow reaction times so we will have more accidents.
The answer is to educate people about drugs and the real way to handle life. This education needs to be real to people and understandable. People are smart and if they really “understand” the true risks of legal and illegal drugs, most will not use them but will find other ways to “have fun.”
At Novus Medical Detox Center, we specialize in helping people who have become addicted to or dependent on legal and illegal drugs like heroin, methadone, OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, Paxil and other psychoactive drugs to safely and more comfortably withdraw. If you know someone who is trapped by these drugs, please give us a call.
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