This Is Your Brain on Drugs, Dad
The New York Times
January 3, 2007
WHEN releasing last week’s Monitoring the Future survey on drug use, John P. Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, boasted that “broad” declines in teenage drug use promise “enormous beneficial consequences not only for our children now, but for the rest of their lives.” Actually, anybody who has looked carefully at the report and other recent federal studies would see a dramatically different picture: skyrocketing illicit drug abuse and related deaths among teenagers and adults alike.
While Monitoring the Future, an annual study that depends on teenagers to self-report on their behavior, showed that drug use dropped sharply in the last decade, the National Center for Health Statistics has reported that teenage deaths from illicit drug abuse have tripled over the same period. This reverses 25 years of declining overdose fatalities among youths, suggesting that teenagers are now joining older generations in increased drug use.
What the Monitoring the Future report does have right is that teenagers remain the least part of America’s burgeoning drug abuse crisis. Today, after 20 years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and millions of arrests and imprisonments in the war on drugs, America’s rate of drug-related deaths, hospital emergencies, crime and social ills stand at record highs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Americans dying from the abuse of illegal drugs has leaped by 400 percent in the last two decades, reaching a record 28,000 in 2004. The F.B.I. reported that drug arrests reached an all-time high of 1.8 million in 2005. The Drug Abuse Warning Network, a federal agency that compiles statistics on hospital emergency cases caused by illicit drug abuse, says that number rose to 940,000 in 2004 — a huge increase over the last quarter century.
Why are so few Americans aware of these troubling trends? One reason is that today’s drug abusers are simply the “wrong” group. As David Musto, a psychiatry professor at Yale and historian of drug abuse, points out, wars on drugs have traditionally depended on “linkage between a drug and a feared or rejected group within society.” Today, however, the fastest-growing population of drug abusers is white, middle-aged Americans. This is a powerful mainstream constituency, and unlike with teenagers or urban minorities, it is hard for the government or the news media to present these drug users as a grave threat to the nation.
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