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Self-Inflicted Wounds: The Toll is Mounting from More Accessible Drugs
(PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)

Self-Inflicted Wounds: The Toll is Mounting from More Accessible Drugs

David W. Murray

On September 16, the White House’s drug control policy office blasted out a press release claiming that youth drug use was “down 24 percent.” At least, they tell us, when measured from 2002. Say, what? That would be the first full year of the George W. Bush Administration. In reality, the shape of the data is a steep V, in fact down from 2002, but turning at the bottom in 2008, and then sharply rising once the Obama Administration took over.

Obama Administration spin aside, this last month saw three major data releases that paint a far more troubling portrait of the country’s drug problem, particularly given our plunge into the brave new world of legal marijuana.

Workplace drug testing results, from Quest Diagnostics, provide more than 8.5 million data points a year charting positive tests for a range of illegal drugs. Historically, Quest data have coincided tightly with other indicators of drug use, tracking both the marijuana and the cocaine declines of the previous decade. Their Index report for 2013, therefore, is troubling.

As Quest notes, “positive drug tests for American workers increased for the first time in more than a decade.” The main drivers of the increase were amphetamines and marijuana, the latter having increased nationally, but “by double digits in Colorado and Washington state.”1

Hair testing, which allows detection over a longer time period than other means, showed an increase in marijuana positive rates of 43 percent between 2009 and 2013 in the general U.S. workforce. Amphetamine positives surged 70 percent over the same time period—while the most recent national survey shows that the non-medical use of the pharmaceutical amphetamine Adderall, in past month use by 18-25 year olds, climbed 45 percent since 2008.

According to the latest National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (yes, the tables for 2013 were quietly posted on the Health and Human Services website on September 15, after numerous complaints about their non-availability), overall use of marijuana for the population 12 and older has increased since the Bush Administration by 29 percent.2

More troubling, however, the measure of “daily use” during the period of the past year for marijuana has soared 84 percent, while “daily use” for the past month has climbed almost 60 percent (the latter being measured from the most recent low points in 2006 and 2007—see chart below).

Figure 2.15 Daily or Almost Daily Marijuana Use in the Past Year and Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older: 2002-2013

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Source: Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings.

Increased “daily use” of marijuana is a clear signal of more and more people in the grip of a highly potent, deeply habituating drug—the new “industrial dope” being produced and distributed nationwide in an unchecked manner by legal-marijuana Colorado.

Though the new regime of industrial dope has been operating only since January of this year, the damage reports are already mounting. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), a law enforcement fusion center, published urgent warnings in a new report last month.

Their data show dramatic and negative changes in Colorado since 2009, when access to medical marijuana became virtually unlimited. Since no systematic baseline measure was ever put in place prior to legalization, the HIDTA has been forced to piece together multiple data reports from several sources. Nevertheless, these data are a striking indictment of those who argue the legalization of marijuana makes American communities safer, and they augur significant damage to come from the drug policy path we are on.

From 2008 to 2012, traffic fatalities with operators testing positive for marijuana increased 81 percent.3 Through 2013, highway interdiction of marijuana, smuggled to 40 other states, has risen 397 percent, with U.S. Mail parcel intercepts up 1,280 percent.4 Overall crime in Denver is up 6.7 percent, measuring the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period of 2014, with “extraction lab” explosions doubling.5

Drug-related suspensions and expulsions from school increased 32 percent from 2009 until 2013, with Colorado youth use of marijuana being already, prior to 2014, measured at a rate 39 percent higher than the national average.6 Young adult rates of marijuana use were 42 percent higher than the national average, while adults over age 26 used marijuana at rates 51 percent higher.7 Children five and younger are “exposed” to marijuana at rates triple the national average, with marijuana-related hospital admissions rising 82 percent since 2008.8

None of these strikingly negative changes has yet to represent the impact of full legalization, implemented in January 2014. So there is surely worse to come, with an explosion of drug use, the health and criminal justice consequences of this use, and the muscle of the criminal operations taking advantage of the new permissive landscape and its promised profits.

These data provide the actual report card on this Administration, which declared an “end to the war on drugs,” facilitated the unprecedented legalization of marijuana, and even now is spurning the global anti-drug international partnerships that protect us all. Unlike the threat from Ebola, the damage from this behavioral disease is largely self-inflicted, and the means of protecting ourselves is in our own hands, if we choose to push back.

1 Quest Diagnostics, “Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index,” September 11, 2014. http://www.questdiagnostics.com/home/physicians/health-trends/drug-testing.
2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.
3 Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact, Volume 2/August 2014. pp.9-10.
4 Ibid, 91.
5 Ibid, 124, 135.
6 Ibid, 30-31.
7 Ibid, 24, 44.
8 Ibid 60, 74.

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