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.
- If drug use is some category is up, then We Need to Push Harder with the Drug War! With More Funding!
- 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. Thatâ€™s partly because bad news is always a better story than good news. Itâ€™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 â€” about 22 million of us are dependent. Itâ€™s still too high, but letâ€™s all take a deep breath. With or without a bong at hand.
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.