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September 2003
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*Catching up*

Catching up
A number of things came up recently that slipped through the cracks on this blog as I reported on other issues, and I thought I’d do some catching up with our Drug Czar…
bullet imageInteresting reading: “John P. Walters Marijuana Rhetoric Could Prove Bush Re-election Liability” at BBS News.
bullet imageA dangerous trend: Nine states have passed zero tolerance laws regarding drug use and driving. While I agree that driving while impaired is wrong and should be punished, these laws involve drug tests which do not test impairment, but rather whether there are residual traces of the drug in your system (like if you smoked a joint a couple of days ago). In some cases, a positive test could mean a 20-year sentence. Naturally John Walters is calling for nation-wide implementation of these laws. This story describes the issues involved.
bullet image“Bush team’s prohibition drug policy is a bust” Bruce Alexander Knight writes this excellent OpEd for the Oregonian, which includes:

Unfortunately the drug czar has not yet learned the central lesson that prohibition doesn’t work.


Drug Czar on Continuing Campaign of Lies
I noticed a blitz last week of press releases picked up by Yahoo News, targeting cities around the country with new statistics regarding drug abuse and emergency room visits. (Yahoo did identify them as press releases. However they were published without question.)

In every one of these articles you’ll find the following:

“This report proves that marijuana is more harmful than many people think,” said White House Director of National Drug Control Policy John Walters. “The rising levels of marijuana potency that we’ve seen over the last several years correspond with dramatic increases in people seeking emergency medical care for marijuana-related incidents

Now the source of this startling information is DAWN: Drug Abuse Warning Network, which states that a main purpose for providing statistics is to assist the DEA and the ONDCP in their efforts, and also admits (pdf) that there have been serious questions raised about the methodology used.

The complexities and limitations of the system, coupled with lack of detailed historical documentation, lead to inevitable misinterpretation of DAWN data…There was little public documentation of DAWN’s data quality, and a few published studies raised concerns that measurement error in DAWN was substantial and systemic…Because DAWN monitors episodes, not individuals, data are misinterpreted if analysts view them as prevalence measures…DAWN data were often assumed to represent heavy or chronic drug users, although the validity of that assumption has never been assessed.

So what does DAWN do? They pick hospitals in major cities and have someone there check the charts for mentions of drug abuse connected with emergency room visits (including toxicology tests and patient interviews). For their purposes, the term “Drug Abuse” includes any use of an illegal drug for recreational purposes. Up to 4 drugs can be “mentioned” per patient visit. And it doesn’t matter if the drug mentioned actually had any connection to the reason for the visit. According to DAWN:

For example, if records for a given patient “mentioned” marijuana, this does not mean that marijuana was the only drug involved in the ED [Emergency Department] visit or that the marijuana caused the ED visit.

Now the final DAWN report showed that there were 47 marijuana “mentions” per 100,000 population. This doesn’t even mean 47 people per 100,000. It could be the same guy 47 times. And 3/4 of those cases involved more than one drug.
So let’s review Walters’ statement again:

“This report proves that marijuana is more harmful than many people think,” said White House Director of National Drug Control Policy John Walters. “The rising levels of marijuana potency that we’ve seen over the last several years correspond with dramatic increases in people seeking emergency medical care for marijuana-related incidents.

What a load of crap.

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