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Distortion 1: Drug Use After Prohibition Ends

Distortion 2: Drug Use Estimates

Distortion 3: Needle Exchange

Distortion 4: Harm Reduction

Distortion 5: Methadone Treatment

Distortion 6: Emergency Room Visits

Distortion 7: Gateway

Distortion 8: Ecstasy

Distortion 9: Cannabis As Medicine

Distortion10: Young People and Drugs

Distortion 11: Marijuana Potency

Distortion 12: Cannabis and Driving

Distortion 13: US Crime Rates

Distortion 14: Cannabis and Drug Treatment

Distortion 15: People Only Smoke Pot To Get High, Whereas They Drink Alcohol To Be Sociable

Distortion 16: ONDCP's 'Open Letter on Marijuana' & the AntiDrug Media Campaign

Distortion 17: Cannabis and Drug Treatment Part II

Distortion 18: Cannabis and Mental Illness

Special: NORML's Truth Report 2005, An Analysis & Response To The Drug Czar's Open Letter About Marijuana

Special: Debunking The Myths — Chronic Pain & Opiods, by Frank Fisher, MD

Distortion 19: Estimating the Size of the Illicit Drug Market

Distortion 20: Methamphetamines

Distortion 21: US Crime Rates & Arrest Rates

Distortion 22: Marijuana & Violence


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Distortion 4: Harm Reduction Doesn't Work

Distortion 4: In Australia, where 'harm reduction' is the official policy, drug use is now at 52% among those 14 to 25. According to Australia's Federal Government, every second person arrested for any crime is under the influence of marijuana. (sometimes cited: United Nations World Drug Report)

The Australian government began studying the drug use of offenders in 1999. The 2000 World Drug Report mentions no such figure, and any report in the 1997 World Drug Report would have been based on anecdotes rather than science, according to researchers involved with the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia.

[Makkai, Toni, et al., Australian Institute of Criminology, "Patterns of Drug Use Amongst Police Detainees: 1999-2000" by, Dec. 2000]

To put this in context, the US Justice Department reports that the United States (which does not have harm reduction as official policy) has much higher rates of drug use by offenders, and also very high rates of drug use in general.

[US: US Dept. of Justice, "Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997" (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jan. 1999; Makkai, Toni, et al., Australian Institute of Criminology, "Patterns of Drug Use Amongst Police Detainees: 1999-2000" by, Dec. 2000, p. 3]

Note: Australia does tend to have higher rates of reported drug use, because Australians have a high level of trust in their government and a long tradition of social research.

[UN World Drug Report 2000 (New York, NY: UNDCP, 2001) notes: "Such high figures do point to high levels of consumption; but they may also have to do with the specific social and legal context in which studies take place. This results in the case of Australia (and some other countries with a long tradition of social research) in more readiness to admit to drug use, and thus far less under-reporting than in countries where drug users fear that such information could be used against them." (p. 74)]

"Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) is the only project in Australia that is routinely monitoring the use of illicit drugs by people detained by police. Although there are many anecdotal stories about the use of drugs by detainees, this is the first authoritative research to both document and monitor use amongst this important group in the community. The collection began in January 1999 and the results presented here describe the extent of illicit drug use every three months in four sites across Australia. These data are comparable with international collections in a number of countries, including the United States and England. Until now, such cross-cultural comparisons have not been possible." (p. 1)

It is true that in Australia, as in many other countries, drug use among detainees is rather high. The DUMA report shows:

"Detainees are most likely to test positive to cannabis (see Figure 1). This is consistent with the National Drug Strategy Household Survey data which showed that cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug in the general community in 1998. Across the general population, around 39 per cent self-reported they have tried cannabis and 18 per cent reported using it in the past 12 months. Amongst this sample of detainees, the average number testing positive to cannabis use in the past 30 days was 63 per cent in Southport, 61 per cent in East Perth, 52 per cent in Parramatta and 47 per cent in Bankstown." (p. 3)

Arrestees in the US also show high rates of drug use -- much higher rates than in Australia. According to the US Justice Department in its 1999 Annual Report of the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program (National Institute of Justice, June 2000), "In 27 of the 34 sites, more than 60 percent of the adult male arrestees tested positive for the presence of at least one of the NIDA-5* drugs, ranging from 50 percent in San Antonio to 77 percent in Atlanta. For female adult arrestees, the median rate for use of any drug was 67 percent in 1999 compared to 64 percent in 1998. In 22 of the 32 sites, more than 60 percent of the adult female arrestees tested positive for at least one drug, ranging from 22 percent in Laredo to 81 percent in New York City. The median rate for use of any drug among male adult arrestees for both 1998 and 1999 was 64 percent." (p. 1)

(*note: " ‘NIDA-5’ refers to the following five drugs: cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, opiates, and PCP.")

Australia does tend to have higher rates of *reported* drug use, because Australians have a high level of trust in their government and a long tradition of social research. According to the UN's World Drug Report 2000, published in early 2001, "Such high figures do point to high levels of consumption; but they may also have to do with the specific social and legal context in which studies take place. This results in the case of Australia (and some other countries with a long tradition of social research) in more readiness to admit to drug use, and thus far less under-reporting than in countries where drug users fear that such information could be used against them." (p. 74)

Australia performs an annual survey of drug use. The most recent, "Statistics on drug use in Australia 2000," published in May 2001, reports that:

"Nearly half of all Australians aged 14 years and over have used illicit substances at least once in their life, while 23% report having used an illicit drug in the preceding 12 months (Table 4.1). The most widely used illicit substance in Australia in 1998 was marijuana, with lifetime use of 39% and recent use of 18%. The prevalence of lifetime use of pain-killers/analgesics (for non-medical purposes) was 12%, followed by hallucinogens (10%) and amphetamines (9%). Only 2% of the Australian population had ever used heroin, with 1% reporting recent usage. The prevalence of cocaine use was slightly higher, with lifetime use in 4% of the respondents and recent use in 1%.

The mean age of initiation for marijuana was 18.8 years, which was only slightly higher than the age of initiation for inhalants (17.5 years) and hallucinogens (18.4 years). The highest age of initiation was for tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes at 23.3 years, followed by ecstasy/designer drugs at 22.5 years and cocaine at 22.2 years." (p. 17)

Comparison: US drug use in general is very high. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, among high school students in the US (grades 9-12), 47.2% have tried marijuana, and 26.7% are current users. A total of 50% are current alcohol users, with 31.5% engaging in "episodic heavy drinking." (source: Youth Risk Behavior Survey, reported in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 9, 2000, Vol. 49, No. SS-5, p. 60, Table 20). Another federal measure of drug use, the National Household Survey, reports that in 2000, among persons 18-25, 51.2% admit to having used an illicit drug in their lifetime, with 27.9% admitting to being a current user.

A UN report issued in mid-2001, "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2001," reports on the number of users of illicit drugs in the prison populations of several nations. According to this report, in Australia in 1998, 50% of prisoners were illicit drug users (though there is no indication of whether the drug use was a contributing factor or merely incidental). The report indicates that in the US in 1994, 70% of the prison population were illicit drug users.

The number of US prisoners who were using either alcohol or other drugs at the time of their arrest may be even higher now, according to the US Dept. of Justice's "Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997" (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jan. 1999):

"In the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, over 570,000 of the Nation’s prisoners (51%) reported the use of alcohol or drugs while committing their offense. While only a fifth of State prisoners were drug offenders, 83% reported past drug use and 57% were using drugs in the month before their offense, compared to 79% and 50%, respectively, in 1991. Also, 37% of State prisoners were drinking at the time of their offense, up from 32% in 1991.

Among Federal prisoners the reports of substance abuse increased more sharply. Although the proportion of Federal prisoners held for drug offenses rose from 58% in 1991 to 63% in 1997, the percentage of all Federal inmates who reported using drugs in the month before the offense rose more dramatically from 32% to 45%. A fifth of Federal prisoners reported drinking at the time of their offense in 1997, up from a tenth in 1991." (p. 1)

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