Letters

Rollin’ in drug money

RE: “Drug Mistreatment

02/25/00

Your story about drug treatment centers for teenagers caught my eye. These for-profit centers have become big business. Some kids are sent off to prison-like facilities where they are cut off from all but an occasional phone call to their parents. I know of one young man who has not been heard from in two years. He did some experimentation but was not a heavy drug user. The longer they keep him, the more money they make.

Cynthia Baker


Poll problems

RE: “Mandatory voting poll

02/24/00

The problem with mandatory voting is that it denies the possibility of not voting, which is a legitimate political act that allows people to withhold their support of the government. Voting, even in the case of two genuinely opposed candidates, is also a vote for the present system of government.

If one is dissatisfied with the whole enterprise, then not voting is the only option. Mandatory voting would effectively end any possibility of real reform. One shouldn’t forget Jefferson’s belief that we ought to have a new government every generation or so.

Phil LaDoucer


War on “approved” drugs?

RE: “Drug Mistreatment

02/24/00

Thank you for covering the subject of drug testing in our schools. This is about the scariest thing that has come out of the drug war. Our children are becoming accustomed to lining up and doing what the government wants.

Norma Sapp


Oscar talks back

RE: “Drug Mistreatment

02/23/00

This is a reply to Jake Ginsky’s response to my original letter about his article “Drug Mistreatment”.

Regarding the contention that marijuana use was lower in the 1990s than in the 1970s, I drew my conclusions regarding adolescent marijuana use in the 1990s from the Youth Risk Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control, 1997) which set the rates of “current marijuana use” (use of the drug one or more times during the preceding 30 days) at 26.2 percent. According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services, use of marijuana (“within the past month”) by teenagers during the peak year of 1979 was 14.2 percent (USDHHS, 1997).

I will admit that I was a bit harsh in suggesting that you might have been insensitive to the plight of adolescents who are grappling with a drug problem. I might also have sounded a bit harsh in suggesting that you were insensitive to the plight of minority youth and their families. For this, I do apologize. If I came across as being too harsh, it is because I care very deeply for the children of this country. If I did not care, I would not have spent my spare time researching the drug issue, and its impact on children, over the past four years.

The experts that you consulted regarding the “gateway theory” are, from my point of view, incorrect in their assessment. There is sufficient evidence compiled to suggest that use of marijuana does increase the likelihood of use of “harder” drugs, such as cocaine and heroin (see Kandel, 1984; Kandel, Murphy, and Karus, 1985; Kozel & Adams, 1986). Notice that I said “increases the likelihood” (which is also what I said in my original response to you). There is no evidence to support the notion that marijuana use will inevitably lead to use of “harder” drugs, but there is evidence to support the conclusion that use of marijuana increases the statistical likelihood that one will try other illicit drugs. We call this a “risk factor” in psychology. There are peer-based, family-based, and genetic-based risk factors to consider as well, so it is not only use of marijuana (by itself) that increases the probability of use of “harder” drugs. However, if you remove the marijuana, you are removing one risk factor and, by extension, reducing the likelihood that an individual adolescent will try other, more dangerous substances. This is why I think that even minimal use of marijuana should be treated seriously.

It is not my intention to prove you wrong or “bash” your article. Instead, I see this as opening a meaningful dialogue in regards to this particular issue, and as an opportunity to provide my perspective. As I said in my previous e-mail, one of the aspects of MoJo Wire that I appreciate is the willingness of the editors to present issues and events from a different perspective.

Oscar A. Cabrera
Dept. of Psychology, University of Houston


Back to you, Jake:

Mr. Cabrera,

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug, so it is not surprising that many people who use more harmful drugs (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines) have tried marijuana at some point. But viewing this as a cause-effect relationship ignores the numerous other problems, beyond drug use, that many abusers have. Many young drug abusers have suffered some form of abuse at home — a fact that I’m sure you are aware of, being a child psychologist. In addition, many have been in and out of the juvenile justice system, and a relatively large number of them have mental-health disorders. Hard-core drug use, many researchers believe, is in most cases a symptom of these problems — not a symptom of drug use itself. As for the studies you cite: Though I have not read them, I am immediately skeptical, given the fact that they date back to the peak of drug hysteria in the mid 1980s.

An additional point you may want to consider is the unintended effect that zero-tolerance programs have in encouraging the use of harder drugs. Programs such as DARE basically teach young people that all drugs are “equally dangerous.” Kids are not taught how to use drugs safely and responsibly — only that they should avoid them at all costs. But, inevitably, many young people do end up experimenting with marijuana. When they do so, they realize that — contrary to what they’ve been told — it simply isn’t that harmful. This, say many adolescents and researchers alike, leads them to assume they’ve been lied to about everything else. Hence, they begin using more lethal drugs, such as heroin and cocaine.


Listen to your mother

RE: “Drug Mistreatment

02/21/00

I’m Al Levesque’s mother and yes, he was in drug treatment centers from the age of 14 up for awhile. Was he an out-of-control teen using drugs? Yes. I feel that what I did at the time was the absolute best thing I could do for him. I was able to get him away from the group of people that he was getting into trouble with and force him to take responsibility for his actions. It’s quite obvious that Al feels he never had a drug problem. Well, I know that at the age of 14, my son was abusing drugs, his grades in school were falling, and his behavior was erratic. I am not at all sorry for putting him into rehab and I feel that if I had not done so, his drug abuse would most definitely have increased.

Laurie


But, Mom …

RE: “Drug Mistreatment

02/22/00

I am aware that my mother was well-intentioned in her actions. Many parents who can’t communicate with their adolescent children think the solution to their problems is sending those children to rehab, clinics, counseling groups, and through the juvenile court system.

For some kids with distinct and pronounced psychological issues and/or addictions to drugs, these programs may work wonders. However, there are a number of reasons why, for many kids, they are ineffective, if not detrimental. I will list only two.

First, change in any human needs to be wanted by the recipient of this change; it can never be made by force.

Second, just because these systems exist and are supported by public and private monies doesn’t mean they work. Nor does it indicate, if a treatment program accepts your teen, that he or she has a problem in the first place.

My mother believes that I am an abuser/addict who is in denial about my drug use. She is motivated by the common misconception that all illegal drug use is drug abuse, and that all users are addicts.

I do use marijuana. I smoke socially and have for many years and do not even consider stopping. It is not physically addictive and has never killed a single person. It lets me get high, but unlike alcohol, allows me to stay in control. I do not smoke to escape any problems, nor do I stay high twenty-four-seven. I do not go to work or class high. I enjoy sobriety as much as being high.

As for intervention keeping me from the friends I had at that time: simply put, it never happened. I hung out with the same guys until I moved away to college.

What did come out of my experience in drug treatment was my use of LSD. When I entered the treatment system I used alcohol on occasion, but didn’t care for it much because it usually made me feel ill. I mostly used marijuana, as I still do. Marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient stays in the human system for around thirty days, which makes it the only common street drug that doesn’t leave the system in 48 hours or so. This in turn makes it the only drug that I couldn’t use if I was to pass my weekly drug tests. I ended up using LSD for quite some time, because it couldn’t be tested for and was as easy to get as marijuana. Granted, I didn’t have to use any drugs, but I did, and I do, and the only reason that I even experimented with LSD at that time was because my first choice was taken from me.

Al Levesque


In defense of zero-tolerance

RE: “Drug Mistreatment

02/21/00

As a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent psychology, I find it troubling that Jake Ginsky uses the opinions of kids in drug rehab programs as evidence for the misdiagnosis of their individual cases. [Evidence of] addiction, whether it be to alcohol or illicit drugs, begins with a very straightforward denial by the addict.

Second, I take issue with Ginsky’s cavalier use of statistical evidence regarding the prevalence of drug use by American teenagers. While it is true that general drug use has gone down since the 1980s, it is also true that drug use is higher now than it was during the 1970s. I find it highly disturbing that Ginsky would refer to the increase in use of such drugs as cocaine, and heroin as “only a few percentage points.” Can someone be so wedded to their own agenda that they are willing to dismiss the suffering of thousands of kids, as represented by those “few percentage points?”

Finally, while not all adolescents who use marijuana end up psychologically dependent on the drug, some do. Moreover, some of the best research conducted in this area seems to indicate that marijuana use significantly increases the likelihood that the adolescent will attempt to use other, more dangerous drugs (e.g., heroin). Thus, the best and most sensible policy is to treat even minimal marijuana use seriously and remand adolescents using marijuana to treatment.

Let me state that I am fully in support of national drug policy (including “zero-tolerance”). I think if individuals who advocate drug legalization or who criticize our zero-tolerance approach would come out of their comfortable middle-class mindset and talk with inner-city parents and teachers, they would realize that people in these areas are very much set against drugs and very much in favor of tougher drug policies.

Oscar A. Cabrera
Dept. of Psychology, University of Houston


Jake Ginsky responds:

Mr. Cabrera,

Your criticisms ignore some fundamental points that I make in my story. First, to get our facts straight, your assertion that teen drug use “is higher now than it was during the 1970s” is simply false. Evidence from both the National Household Survey and the Monitoring the Future Study show that drug use among teens — even at its most recent peak in 1996-97 — is substantially lower than it was in the 1970s. For example, in 1978, about 11 percent of 12th graders reported daily marijuana use, compared to 6 percent in 1999.

You are right to point out that even an increase of “only a few percentage points” in the use of hard drugs (heroin, cocaine, etc.) can mean that thousands of kids are developing problems with these drugs. But it’s hardly fair to say that I “dismiss the suffering” of these hard-core abusers. On the contrary, I make the point that the kids who are the most in need of treatment are often the ones who have the least access to it. It is generally estimated that only about a quarter of the 800,000 heroin users in the US get the treatment they need. At the same time, many researchers argue, a disproportionate number of youths who do not have properly defined drug problems are being admitted for the slightest level of marijuana use. The latter trend only seems to exacerbate the problem for the hard-core addicts you refer to.

You also contend that I belittle the problems facing disadvantaged youths in the inner city. But, in fact, I make the point that access to treatment often depends on being able to afford it. Typically, kids in the inner city lack the cash and health insurance to get access to treatment, other than the slots that are available through the criminal justice system.

Your suggestion that we should treat “even minimal marijuana use seriously and remand adolescents using marijuana to treatment” is, frankly, a bit frightening. If that’s your criterion for being “in need of treatment,” I would estimate that about 60 percent of my friends in high school — none of whom have ever developed drug problems — would have required treatment. As many experts attest, adolescents are inevitably going to experiment with drugs. In the majority of cases, their use will not stretch beyond experimentation or, at most, occasional use.

True, a great number of young marijuana users — albeit only a small minority of the total — do develop abuse problems and require treatment. But statistics show that these are, quite often, not the kids who are admitted to treatment facilities.

As to your contention that “marijuana use significantly increases the likelihood that the adolescent will attempt to use other, more dangerous drugs”: many of the researchers and treatment professionals I spoke to strongly disagree with this so-called gateway theory.