Police Commissioner and later Mayor of Philadelphia Frank Rizzo was adamant about not giving marijuana users a break. He would tell his officers, “Marijuana is the gateway to drug addiction. Book them!”
But his orders failed to dent the spreading use of illicit and the abuse of licit drugs.
Today’s drug culture has managed to invade the very police units whose missions are to curtail drug traffic. In Philadelphia, the DA has been forced to close out hundreds of drug cases handled by undercover narcotics officers who got caught up in the drug trade. Easy money is a slippery slope.
Surveys of American students continue to show they still do not believe marijuana use can lead to other drug addiction and death in some cases.
Each year, the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan surveys thousands of 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders to find out their substance-abuse habits and attitudes toward drug use. While statistics on drug abuse go up and down slightly from year to year, there is never very much overall change.
What has become obvious is they continue to ignore the message drug abuse is dangerous and harmful. Some of these children will wind up addicted and some of them will overdose. More of them will develop illnesses related to alcohol or drug abuse and a few of them will die unnecessarily in accidents related to substance abuse.
The results of this survey go back as far as 1975. Marijuana use declined through 2006 and then began to grow. Now, there are more young people using marijuana than smoking cigarettes.
In 2011, only about 45% of high-school seniors felt there was a great risk to using marijuana on a regular basis. The number of young people thinking it is risky to abuse marijuana has been downtrending since 1991. Pushing in this direction is the spreading permissiveness and legality of its use in different states and since the drug is given to sick people, how dangerous can it be?
Alcohol consumption is on a downtrend while at the same time, abuse of far more-addictive prescription drugs is on the rise. OxyContin abuse remains steady, hydrocodone abuse is down slightly, but Ritalin and Adderall (a form of amphetamine) abuse is growing. Between 2009 and 2011, the percentage of high-school seniors who abused a prescription amphetamine or stimulant climbed from 6.6% to 8.2%.
There may be people, both young and old, who think these drugs can be abused without becoming addicted. And sometimes, it’s true, a young person can abuse some of these drugs and then decide to quit. But others take a different path. They can’t quit when they want to. The cravings drive them to abuse the same drug over and over. Their life begins to deteriorate. Grades drop, activities and interests are discontinued. Friends change so the young person is now hanging out with people who use drugs, not the sober ones.
Even marijuana has been proven to be addictive. In 2010, more than 150,000 young people (12 to 17) went to rehab to recover from marijuana addiction. In all, more than a million people of all ages found rehab help after complaining of a primary addiction to marijuana.
Good drug policy requires us to judge marijuana in perspective with other intoxicants.
In Philadelphia, an experienced substance-abuse treatment program in the Northeast is Self Help. It can be reached by calling Executive Dir. Bob Dellavella at (215) 335-4004.