15. Teen Drug “Crisis” is a Myth

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Sources: EXTRA! Date: September/October 1996 Title: “High On Lies,” Author: Mike Males; THE, PROGRESSIVE, Date: May 1996, Title: “The Return of Reefer Madness, “ Authors: Mike Males and Faye Docuyanan

SSU Censored Researchers: Kevin Coyne, Jody Howard

In what is slowly becoming a campaign tradition, Bob Dole spent a formidable amount of the 1996 election cycle vowing to end the rampant use of drugs by American teens. In the end, his promises were not enough to win the election, but his call to address the teenage drug crisis certainly garnered copious media attention. According to researcher and journalist Mike Males, however, the U.S. media were taken in by “a politically manufactured hoax.” In short, claims Males, “ill-motivated authorities are waging open war against youths and minorities—and the compliant media are leading the cheers.”

Consider some of these statistics:

o In June 1994, the Federal Drug Abuse and Warning Network (DAWN) released its annual survey of coroners in four dozen major cities. It found a record-high 8,500 deaths from drug overdoses, drug suicides, and drug-related accidents in 1993. But teenagers made up just 2 percent of these deaths.

o Of the 1,100 Los Angeles County deaths in 1994 considered drug related—accidental overdoses, suicides, car wrecks, and other fatal mishaps in which drugs were found—only six involved teens.

o In the same county, teenagers made up only 3 percent of 36,000 emergency room treatments during 1993 for drug-related injuries.

o DAWN’s companion survey of hospitals and emergency departments found that teens comprised just 3 percent of the 200,000 admissions involving heroin, cocaine, or marijuana.

o People under age 21 comprised only one in ten admissions to drug-abuse treatments in 1993, down sharply from one in six in 1987.

Each year, the University of Michigan releases a report called “Monitoring the Future,” a survey of 50,000 junior and senior high school students that seems to prove the teenage use of drugs is increasing. Males notes, however, that “the unreported findings of the Michigan Survey were far less inflammatory.” Two in three high school seniors, and seven in eight eighth-graders had not smoked pot in the year preceding the survey. Only 2 percent of the seniors had ever used crystal methamphetamine, 4 percent had used cocaine, and fewer than one percent had used heroin in the past twelve months.

While these statistics do not seem to support the theory of a teen drug “crisis,” they do, however, support the claim that a drug problem exists—but among the parents of teenagers, rather than the teenagers themselves.

According to Males, “Drug death rates are now so high among middle-aged men that they dwarf all the other classes. Middle-agers are now twenty times more likely to die from drugs than are teenagers.”

COMMENTS: Mike Males and Faye Docuyanan, co-authors of the article in The Progressive, believe the subject has not been well-covered. “Though this could be said about a number of issues, the media’s coverage of the drug war is the worst example of capitulation to official interest since the early days of Vietnam. Worse, even, because while Vietnam reporters had few sources of information other than official briefings, today’s press has failed to scrutinize readily available public documents that clearly refute the official line. I [Mike] have yet to meet a single mainstream reporter who has [actually] read the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, or the Drug Abuse Warning Network surveys, that they breathlessly report. All they do is report what officials and drug war interests say these reports say.

“If we wish to formulate drug policies that truly improve the public health of our society, then these policies must be grounded in knowledge of the facts (regardless of their popularity) rather than unfounded fears and moral panic. Today’s drug panic ensues from a 5-percentage-point rise, from 3 percent in 1992 to 8 percent today, in the number of teen-agers who use marijuana at least once a month. This is the age group, drug, and drug use style least likely to cause problems, now or in the future. Meanwhile, the drug war is ignoring exploding rates of heroin, cocaine, pharmaceutical, and alcohol abuse among middle-agers that are now causing record hundreds of thousands of emergency hospitaliza-tions and treatments, and thousands of deaths.

“Drug war interests (policy makers, health care professionals, lawyers, grant-funded academics, entrepreneurs, and law enforcement officials) benefit from diversion of public attention away from the massive failures of drug-war strategy: (a) the government’s refusal to deal with the drugs dispensed by large corporations (pharmaceutical companies and alcohol marketers), (b) official dereliction in stemming a rising 20 year pattern of heroin and drug abuse among Vietnam veterans, (c) the disastrous strategy of pursuing punitive, prison-interdiction-oriented measures instead of treatment expansion, and (d) the inevitable, skyrocketing rates of addicts and drug abusers with intractable habits. Instead of focusing on a very real, long-term drug crisis mainly among over-30 groups, drug war interests have done what they always have: demonized a powerless, unpopular scapegoat—adolescents. Hence the concoction of a ‘teenage drug crisis’ surrounding the 5-point rise in marijuana use and last summer’s complete manufacture of a ‘heroin epidemic’ among the young.” Males says he has received calls from mainstream reporters and op-ed editors (i.e., L.A. Times, Washington Post, Newsday) on this issue in the last month, including publication of several stories and opinion pieces, “so perhaps the media is tiring of its role as drug war lapdog. Certainly the histrionics of drug czar McCaffrey over the passage of the California and Arizona medical-pot initiatives, and his arrogance in assuming the media will help him pillory the two states, may be a wake-up call,” says Males.

“As a society, we must be able to discern the difference between casual substance use and serious and life-threatening substance abuse. Serious drug abuse does occur among some teenagers, but vital statistics indicate that hard-core drug use is primarily a middle-aged adult problem. For many addicts, drugs are a way to temporarily numb misery and escape from desperation, and any effective treatment involves an understanding and amelioration of the root causes of drug addiction. Waging ‘war,’ inflicting harsh punishments, and hurling empty political rhetoric are the futile, ineffective, and often harmful strategies we currently employ to solve our nation’s drug abuse problems,” argues Males.