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September 2010
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The Numbers Game

Every year, whenever a new set of numbers comes out regarding illicit drugs, the drug warriors are ready to pounce. Their staff combs through the numbers and looks for specific ones (out of thousands) to cherry-pick. It’s a fun and easy game for them, because it doesn’t matter which way the numbers go.

  1. If drug use is some category is up, then We Need to Push Harder with the Drug War! With More Funding!
  2. If drug use in some category is down, then it’s See, the Drug War is working! We Need More Funding to Fix the Other Areas!

Once in a while, as Eric Sterling notes, they’ll attempt to use the numbers another way to attack opponents, such as Kerlikowske did yesterday when discussing the increase in marijuana use among teens aged 12-17.

“I can absolutely not rule out this constant discussion of so-called medical marijuana, marijuana legalization and the downplaying of marijuana harms that is prevalent in the media,”

Don’t you love it? The phrase “absolutely not rule out” is pure gold. It means nothing, yet sounds so definitive. I can absolutely not rule out the existence of a spaghetti monster. I can absolutely not rule out the possibility that our political leaders have been taken over by Red Lectroids from Planet 10.

The numbers game is starting to get old, even for the media. John Cloud, in the Health Section of Time Magazine, writes, Is Drug Use Really on the Rise?

Each year when the federal government releases new statistics on drug use, the bad news always gets reported first. That’s partly because bad news is always a better story than good news. It’s also partly because government anti-drug agencies depend on bad news to maintain funding levels from Congress, so they publicize danger signs first.

Whoa. Not the usual obedient repetition of drug czar proclamations in the media that we had in the past.

The Time article takes the scary numbers and puts them in a little more perspective:

As for other drugs: use of alcohol is unchanged, while the decline in tobacco use has stalled. Also, a headline buried in the SAMHSA report: the number of people who begin to use illegal drugs each day has not changed from last year. Every day, approximately 8,500 Americans use an illegal drug for the first time. Nearly 60% of these people are smoking pot for the first time. These figures are similar to the numbers of the past few years. The average age at which an American first smokes pot? Not 12 or 13, as scary reports would suggest, but 17.

Finally, the number of Americans who report being dependent on substances has been stable since 2002 — about 22 million of us are dependent. It’s still too high, but let’s all take a deep breath. With or without a bong at hand.

[Thanks, Dan]

Nice to see some realism.

Part of the problem with all of these numbers games anyway is that generally, the ONDCP is obsessing over the wrong numbers.

The goal of the ONDCP, as mandated by Congress, is to reduce the number of people using illicit drugs. That is a bad, and even destructive, goal. With the incentive being to find quick ways to reduce large numbers, the focus isn’t on the people who need help, but rather with the casual (non-problematic) user where the ONDCP may be able to scare them off by tough enforcement talk or propaganda.

If you’re going to have a drug policy entity at the federal level to solve the “drug problem,” then its goal should be to reduce harm, not reduce level of use. In that situation the drug czar’s office would have no interest in responsible recreational users, and would focus on both the aspects of drug abuse and drug prohibition that are harmful.

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21 comments to The Numbers Game

  • darkcycle

    Red Lectriods from planet 10? What will we do, John Parker?

  • Ripmeupacuppa

    Red Lectriods; wow, that was amazing acid indeed!

  • claygooding

    And the drug czar was a police officer for years,before he became a political appointee to a bureaucratic empire with a 15 billion dollar budget. If I was his ex-employer,I would be auditing the books to see how much funding was missing during his employment.

  • Ripmeupacuppa

    “..Mmm. ..Let me put it to you this way: Either you agree to take this post and lie through the back teeth for us, or you’re going down, both for fraud and embezzlement.”

  • ezrydn

    I can’t wait to see what their “rant of the hour” is when we’re a week away from the vote. Their actions, while expected, are really getting comical.

  • claygooding

    There is a rumor buzzing around Washington that the reason Michelle Lieinghardt was nominated for admin at the DEA was because no one else would take the job.
    I wrote a request to the committee chair person at last springs ONDCP budget hearing and asked for any news or plans of further hearings on the budgeting for the ONDCP.
    I sent him the link to the drug use statistics just released and suggested that he could get the statistical proof of the effectiveness of our drug policy and the answers the drug czar refused or had no answers too.
    Will post any responses I get.

  • malcolmkyle

    Kerlikowske’s claim about ‘Med. Cannabis’ promoting ‘teen usage’ flies against all the evidence;

    Here are some extracts from “MARIJUANA USE BY YOUNG PEOPLE: THE IMPACT OF STATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS By Karen O’Keefe, Esq. Legislative Analyst Marijuana Policy Project and Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology University at Albany, State University of New York:

    Overall, the trends in states with medical marijuana laws are slightly more favorable than the trends nationwide. California, Washington, and Colorado have all seen much greater drops
    in marijuana usage than have occurred nationwide. When states consider proposals to allow the medical use of marijuana under state law, the concern often arises that such laws might “send the wrong message” and therefore cause an increase in marijuana use among young people. The available evidence strongly suggests that this hypothesis is incorrect and that enactment of state medical marijuana laws has not increased adolescent marijuana use. Consequently, legislators should evaluate medical marijuana proposals based on their own merits — without regard for the speculative and unsupported assertions about the bills sending the “wrong message.”

    In California — which has the longest-term, most detailed data available — the number of ninth graders reporting marijuana use in the last 30 days declined by 47% from 1996 (when the state’s medical marijuana law passed) to 2004. An analysis commissioned by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs found “no evidence supporting that the passage of Proposition 215 increased marijuana use during this period.”

    In Washington state, sixth graders’ current and lifetime marijuana use has dropped by at least 50% since the 1998 enactment of the state’s medical marijuana law. All other surveyed grade levels have seen both lifetime and current marijuana use drop by between 25% and 50%.

    In Hawaii, youth marijuana use has decreased among all surveyed grade levels — by as much as 38% — since the 2000 passage of the state’s medical marijuana law.

    Data from Maine suggest a modest decline since the 1999 passage of its law. Data from Nevada (whose law was passed in 2000) and Alaska (whose law was passed in
    1998) show overall decreases in marijuana use, with a modest increase in a few individual grade levels.

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2005TeenUseReport.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/1999StateDataNHSDA.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2000StateDataNHSDA.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2001StateDataNHSDA.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2002StateDataNHSDA.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2003StateDataNHSDA.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2004StateDataNHSDA.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2005StateDataNHSDA.pdf

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2006StateDateNHSDA.pdf

  • malcolmkyle

    Kerlikowske’s claim that Medical Cannabis promoting teen usage contradicts all the evidence;

    Here are some extracts from “MARIJUANA USE BY YOUNG PEOPLE: THE IMPACT OF STATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS By Karen O’Keefe, Esq. Legislative Analyst Marijuana Policy Project and Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology University at Albany, State University of New York:

    Overall, the trends in states with medical marijuana laws are slightly more favorable than the trends nationwide. California, Washington, and Colorado have all seen much greater drops
    in marijuana usage than have occurred nationwide. When states consider proposals to allow the medical use of marijuana under state law, the concern often arises that such laws might “send the wrong message” and therefore cause an increase in marijuana use among young people. The available evidence strongly suggests that this hypothesis is incorrect and that enactment of state medical marijuana laws has not increased adolescent marijuana use. Consequently, legislators should evaluate medical marijuana proposals based on their own merits — without regard for the speculative and unsupported assertions about the bills sending the “wrong message.”

    In California — which has the longest-term, most detailed data available — the number of ninth graders reporting marijuana use in the last 30 days declined by 47% from 1996 (when the state’s medical marijuana law passed) to 2004. An analysis commissioned by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs found “no evidence supporting that the passage of Proposition 215 increased marijuana use during this period.”

    In Washington state, sixth graders’ current and lifetime marijuana use has dropped by at least 50% since the 1998 enactment of the state’s medical marijuana law. All other surveyed grade levels have seen both lifetime and current marijuana use drop by between 25% and 50%.

    In Hawaii, youth marijuana use has decreased among all surveyed grade levels — by as much as 38% — since the 2000 passage of the state’s medical marijuana law.

    Data from Maine suggest a modest decline since the 1999 passage of its law. Data from Nevada (whose law was passed in 2000) and Alaska (whose law was passed in
    1998) show overall decreases in marijuana use, with a modest increase in a few individual grade levels.

    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2005TeenUseReport.pdf

  • tovarisch

    Who elected comrade commissar Gil?

  • darkcycle

    There you have it: Kurley just sent the latest lie up the flagpole to see if anybody salutes. I’d have expected better. That took Malcolm less than 48 hours to shoot full of holes. Hold ’em to the truth, if ‘ya can Malcolm!

  • kaptinemo

    Once more, the old saw about “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure” comes to mind. And with as much at stake as the entire ‘anti-drugs’ budget, ol’ Kurley has way too much to lose.

    I liken each Administration’s stance on drug prohibition as a kind of Russian Roulette, with all the previous ones having been able to dodge the final round. Now, with the sea change in the country regarding cannabis prohibition, in Kurley’s case, the chamber has spun down to the one that’s ‘hot’, and the trigger is being slowly, slowly squeezed.

    And I don’t feel the least bit sorry.

  • claygooding

    It is more like “Polish” roulette in this situation,with 5 chambers loaded and one empty,because the attack on his budget is coming from about 5 different directions.
    From Prop 19,too Webb’s criminal justice commission and don’t forget the budget committee.

  • darkcycle

    Dieing animals can be dangerous. Note the near record # of pot busts. If prop 19 don’t finish it off, look for lots more thrashing. Everybody stand back.

  • Just me.

    The ONDCP isnt any different than any other government office. they all twist facts and numbers to make themselves inportant. Get rid of these leaches so “We The People” can take care of our selves. Its all corrupt and divids the people.

  • Duncan20903

    Real Estate agents have never acknowledged a time when it was a bad move to buy a home. Prices going up? You’d better hurry before they go up more. Entire price structure of real estate collapsing? How low do you really think it can go? Better hurry before prices start going back up. Mortgage brokers use similar arguments, just substitute ‘mortgage rates’ for ‘home prices’. We’ve really got some lovely units dirt cheap on the Love Canal…

    For those not familiar with Love Canal tragedy: http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/lovecanal/01.htm

    If it weren’t so horrid it might be rather amusing that it was the Hooker Chemical Company that caused the Love Canal fiasco.
    ——————————————————————————————————————–
    Remember the 2001 Harvard Medical study that found a 500% increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after inhaling cannabis smoke? I recently looked that one over. There were a total of 9 cannabis users involved in the study who tended to be obese and addicted to tobacco (yes doctor, it’s well proven that carbon monoxide causes brain damage). The study quantified that 500% increase in risk to be about the same for a fit person after vigorous exercise or a sedentary person engaging in sexual intercourse. Well I’m certainly not going to give up having intercourse. The major problem with this study is it’s been a long time since cannabis raised my heart rate immediately after consumption. Its one of the side effects that is present in neophytes and occasional users but quits happening if cannabis consumption is habitual. I also seem to recall that there is a concomitant decrease in blood pressure that makes the increase in heart rate not a particular concern which it would be without a BP drop. Unlike the heart rate, I still come in with a BP of 100/60 after consumption, but it’s 130/80 without. It used to make doctors mutter and shake their heads when I was super-sized. This man is 350 lbs and has ***low*** blood pressure??!?? A couple actually retook my BP and one even required a different sphygmomanometer be used. Yeah well 130/80 isn’t something to worry about anyway, being about 1 click into high blood pressure. How do you keep your blood pressure so low Duncan? Well doc, I just picture myself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees, and marmalade skies.

    Oh yeah, I think I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I was getting a brain MRI. The neurologist examined it and didn’t figure out that I’m a 33 year cannabis user. Then again Ockham makes me think it much more likely that if there is a structural defect caused by drug use that cocaine and alcohol are horses and cannabis is a

    When it comes to emergency room ‘admissions’ they’ll cite that as being over 100,000 admissions without pointing out that there are some 125 million ER visits every year with nearly a third being caused by booze.

    If the numbers are large but the percentage is small use the actual numbers. If the numbers are tiny use the rate of increase to make it sound like it’s a problem.

    I’ve got a Powerball ticket for the next big lottery jackpot drawing. I just looked up the jackpot. I could win $112 million!! I think I’ll head over to the 7-11 and buy 5 tickets more to increase my chance of winning by 500%. So what if I won’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance even if I buy 50 tickets and increase my chances by 5000%? (presented arguendo, I don’t actually buy lottery tickets)
    ——————————————————————————————————————–
    Oh yeah, I think I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I was getting a brain MRI. The neurologist examined it and didn’t figure out that I’m a 33 year cannabis user. Then again Ockham makes me think it much more likely that if there is a structural defect caused by drug use that cocaine and alcohol are horses and cannabis is a zebra. He did order another MRI this time ‘with contrast’ which I’m not particularly looking forward to having. When I went in for the MRI without contrast there was half a page of negative warnings that were listed for MRI’s with contrast and some boilerplate that if I’m reading between the lines correctly tells me that people don’t like MRIs with contrast and complain and file lawsuits. Sometimes I think informed consent for medical tests is stupid. Does anyone really say, nah, those side effects look horrid I’ll just take my chances without the test? After all, where ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise.

  • Just me.

    Ya , i have good BP too…wonder why? I dont let the little things piss me off either…wonder why?

  • the numbers continue to demonstrate how minimal a “problem” drug use is in our society.

    that’s a major message that our side needs to constantly reinforce: the damage from drug use (and more importantly abuse) is laughably minuscule. yet, these jackasses are getting away with wasting billions on it.

    sorry though to have to point out again that this idiot fest of claim and counterclaim remains the same boring, skipping record that it has been for 40 years.

    if drug use was really a problem, you’d hear “the people” pissing and moaning about it. but have a look around — they really don’t care. simply because it isn’t really a problem

  • Voletear

    Interesting that Time should publish something that seems so sensible on the drug issue, especially after the ridiculous hatchet job they did on prescription drug users (read: chronic pain patients) along with CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/09/04/earlyshow/saturday/main6835509.shtml?tag=nl.rSINGLE
    Check out the comments!

  • Duncan20903

    This comment over at NPR made me LOL.

    Allison Sidders (AliLou) wrote:

    With respect, Mr. Greenblatt, I find the headline you chose to be misleading.
    “Rise In Drug Use Tied To Relaxed View Toward Pot”. How about:
    “Rise In Marijuana Use Tied to Failure of Fear Tactics”.
    Friday, September 17, 2010 1:24:49 PM

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129930970

    Hey Malcolm that comments section could really benefit from your post above.
    ——————————————————————————————————————–
    brian, you made small typo. Here, I fixed it for you.

    “the damage from drug use (and more importantly abuse) is laughably minuscule. yet, these jackasses are getting away with wasting trillions on it.”

    Trillions with a T is much more accurate. At the current rate it only takes between 6 and 7 years to total a trillion with a T dollars. Not to mention that the US doesn’t have that money and has to borrow to have it to squander. Every penny squandered in the war on (some) drugs is still owed, and there’s a nice pile of interest that the US pays to service that debt. I guess I could argue that W was a good president, because in his 8 years he’s the only president since Johnson that has caused the percentage of the national debt attributable to the failed war on (some) drugs to decline, and it did decline substantially under W. OK, ok, that has more to do with him squandering piles and piles of borrowed money on other stuff.

  • […] Numbers Game The Numbers Game DrugWarRant / Pete Guither / 09,15,2010 Every year, whenever a new set of numbers comes out […]

  • […] vad gör vi, jo, tar i med hårdare tag så klart! Alternativt går det utmärkt att skylla på medicinsk marijuana som drogtsar Gil Kerlikowske för att dölja knarkkrigets misslyckande och den ökande konsumtionen […]