We all know that the Drug Czar is required by law to lie. But does he really need to enjoy it so much?
This week points out once again how he does it. And it’s all about drugged driving.
Now the drug czar would like to make a big deal about the dangers of drugged driving, partly because if he can get states to pass “per se” laws (where even the presence of residual metabolites from marijuana, for example count as drugged driving despite the lack of impairment), then it puts a complication into efforts to legalize.
Here’s his problem. There are no reliable studies that demonstrate that drugged-non-drunk driving (particularly marijuana drugged driving) is a real problem. Individual cases, sure, but no clear statistics like you have with drunk driving.
This year, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study where they asked drivers in one location to pull over and voluntarily submit to a drug test.
Based on oral fluid tests, 11% of daytime drivers tested positive for the presence of a combination of illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs (not including alcohol). 14.4% of nighttime drivers tested positive. At nighttime, they also tested some drivers with blood tests. Using a combination of oral fluid and blood tests, 16.3% of nighttime drivers tested positive. Marijuana was the substance detected most (nighttime: marijuana 8.6%, cocaine 3.9%, meth 1.3%).
Now, as you read this, you immediately realize that it means very little. It’s the first year that this study has been conducted. Now, if you run it for a number of years, fluctuations might tell you something interesting. But a baseline set of numbers here says nothing at all about impairment on the highways.
For example, if 8.6% of the population uses marijuana on a regular basis, but every one of them always, without fail, wait until they are sober before driving, these results would show that 8.6% of drivers test positive for illegal drugs. It says nothing about impairment.
The study authors knew this well. They specifically stated:
â€œThe reader is cautioned that drug presence does not necessarily imply impairment. For many drug types, drug presence can be detected long after any impairment that might affect driving has passed. For example, traces of marijuana can be detected in blood samples several weeks after chronic users stop ingestion. Also, whereas the impairment effects for various concentration levels of alcohol is well understood, little evidence is available to link concentrations of other drug types to driver performance. â€œ
â€œCaution should be exercised in assuming that drug presence implies driver impairment. Drug tests do not necessarily indicate current impairment. Drug presence can be measured for a period of days or weeks after ingestion in many cases. This latency of drug presence may partially explain the consistency between daytime and nighttime drug findings.â€
That didn’t stop the Drug Czar. Desperately needing some kind of authoritative backing for his drugged driving campaign, he latched onto the NHTSA report despite the fact that it specifically denied what he was trying to claim.
He knew that. So he needed to find a way to sneak it in.
He couldn’t just come out and put a statement on the ONDCP website stating that 16% of all evening drivers are high. That could be subject to review. So he tends to be more careful with official statements. In his statement for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week, he said:
In addition, we hope to foster productive discussions this week about the emerging public safety threat of drugged driving, which adversely effects judgment, reaction time, motor skills, and memory. In our Nation, we are increasingly seeing the terrible consequences of drug use in the form of automobile accidents. Far too many people are using drugs and then getting behind the wheel, with deadly results. According to a study conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 12 percent of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs.
See the trick? Three sentences of hyperbolic opinion, followed by one sentence of unrelated fact (technically true, because he said “tested,” not that they were impaired), intentionally giving the impression that the last sentence acts as proof or evidence to support the first three.
It is a lie. No question about it. The paragraph is intentionally deceitful, which makes it a lie. But it’s effectively unchallengeable. How could I, for example, challenge that statement through the Information Quality Act? Statements like “far too many people” are so vague as to be meaningless, and the final sentence is technically correct, even though irrelevant.
But that’s only the first step of the lie. Kerlikowske knows that the press can be manipulated (and that his quotes in the press are un-reviewable), so when he talks to them, he goes further, knowing they won’t bother to check on his statements.
Washington Post, reported by Ashley III Halsey:
About 11 percent of motorists are high on the weekend, and the number creeps up past 16 percent once night falls on Friday and Saturday, according to federal drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and a national roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. [emphasis added]
Reuters, reported by Sylvia Westall and Matthew Jones:
“If you think about driving on an American road on a Friday or Saturday evening about 16 percent of the vehicles – one in six of the cars – (the driver) will be under the influence of an illicit or licit drug,” Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said. [emphasis added]
NY Daily News, reported by Issie Lapowsky:
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, told members of the United Nations that on the average weekend in America, one in six drivers â€œwill be under the influence of an illicit or licit drug.â€ [emphasis added]
Now the lie is clear and specific, but it’s being disseminated by the press, not specifically by the ONDCP.
Masterful lying by Gil Kerlikowske. Almost too good. Makes me wonder who might be helping him… I understand that Kevin Sabet has been seen at his side quite a bit. Kevin’s a real cagey player and has shown an interest in pushing the marijuana and drugged driving meme for some time.
Care to comment on that, Kevin? I’d be happy to open up a discussion on drugged driving with you here at any time.
Note to any amateur sleuths out there. If you find any official ONDCP documents or web pages that actually misstate the findings of the NHTSA study (ie, use the words “impaired” or “high” or something other than “tested positive for”) please let me know.