3 The Hidden, Happy News About Our Young
AFTER POT PARTIES at night, ldds would go to the manhole and shine a flashlight down on the decomposing corpse . . . for kicks." So wrote Peggy Mann in a highly influential article, "The Parent War Against Pot," in 1980. The popular writer was describing a situation in which a 15-year-old Cleveland-area boy had been murdered and his body stuffed down a manhole; it re-mained there known to perhaps 100 teenagers but not the police for six months. While admitting that this was "hardly a typical story," Ms. Mann felt it important enough to report and to connect with today's youth and marijuana in the public mind. She quoted the boy who revealed this story as saying to a doctor that he had to get into a "drug removal center" because "I suddenly realized how pot can make you do crazy things."
LIBELING OUR YOUTH
Even though I have serious questions about the motivation and the tactics of the current crusade for drug-free youth, that criticism, nevertheless, does not fully deal with the alleged serious condition of this drugged generation of youth. There has been a great deal spoken and written by governmental officials, leading medical authorities, and respected authors detailing the terrible deeds today's youth commit and the horrible maladies they suffer. They have been recently portrayed as infinitely worse than pre-vious generations--lost, rotten, dying, and slaves to marijuana and other drugs.
To read the actual words of these experts, such as Ms. Mann, whose dire descriptions dominate public images, is enough to make any concerned American adult wonder how we have spawned such a self-destructive generation and to be almost thankful that they are, as the drug warriors say, dying off faster than any other group of our people. A comprehensive theory about the behavior of our current bad crop of youth is provided by Phyllis and David York, the originators, promoters, and marketers of Toughlove ideology, consultations, workshops, books, pamphlets, newsletters, T-shirts, and a whole line of related merchandise. Promotional material handed to me at the Toughlove sales booth in the Atlanta convention center during a 'White House—supported conference in April 1985 stated that within the space of a relatively few years, since the mid-Seventies, the movement has grown to over 1,400 groups in North America, Europe, Korea, and Australia.
To these disciples throughout the world, and to the general public, the Yorks have explained in their best-selling book, Tough-love (1982): "The common denominator is rotten behavior. Despite a wide range of geographic, social, and economic backgrounds, our young people today behave with stereotypical predictability. Like clones stamped out in some satanic laboratory, they share an un-derlying selfishness and similar ways of demonstrating it." We have already heard Fred Collins, one victim of the treatment which sometimes results from this philosophy, describe it as brutality. It might also be described as a rationale for hate of a whole gen-eration of children, starting with one's own.
Nevertheless, armed with that satanic-clone vision of today's "troubled teens," the Yorks in their book discarded the well-established concept they had been taught in their training as professional drug-abuse counselors and family therapists: look for many of the roots of drug and alcohol abuse in family dysfunction. According to the Yorks, that makes no sense today because the selfish behavior of most of these kids comes from within themselves and from the fact that they are so often "stoned." Phyllis then told about the behavior of the kids she grew up vvith as a teenager in the early Fifties, when she "also felt the influence of the growing youth subculture. But drag racing, drinking, and balling in the backseat were considered the limits of outrageous teen behavior in that decade." Well, not exactly the limits, even for a nice Jewish girl in New York City, because, as Toughlove declares, without a hint of embarrassment or regret, "When she was a teenager she smoked pot, tried cocaine, sniffed heroin, and occasionally drank."
However, Phyllis York claimed that there was "a big difference" between her drug use and other shenanigans and "what is hap-pening today." For example (writing in the third person about Phyllis), the Yorks said, "she liked the feelings she got when she used pot and cocaine and if she were a kid today she feels that she'd abuse these chemicals." The implication, of course, is that Ms. York somehow managed to use highly addictive illegal drugs ethically, occasionally, and responsibly! Why cannot young people sow their wild oats in that way today and then later become more responsible citizens, even going into the youth-control business as adults? Partly because they are more rotten than Phyllis and her friends were, but also because "at one time drugs were part of 'limit breaking' and the 'new consciousness,' but as the years have passed they have simply become part of the culture."
In other words, when the Toughlove Mother was a young girl, her profound deviance was much more understandable and less destructive because it was pioneering—and also because it involved greater effort in finding drugs. The ldds today are selfish satanic clones because more of them are involved in the same activities and it is easier for them to obtain drugs. If the Yorks have dem-onstrated a significant difference here, I have failed to appreciate it. Nor did my undergraduate students whom I forced to read Toughlove. They were outraged to think that any adult would believe that it is part of the accepted culture for the majority of youth to fornicate in the backseats of cars, and also to use mari-juana, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. I can state categorically that any teenaged boy or girl who was involved in all of those activities today would be considered a deviant by most of the young people I know. That is why Phyllis York and her nice teenaged friends of the Fifties--held up almost as role models by the Toughlove gurus—were "rotten" themselves in the eyes of many of my students. Moreover, having personally known the teenagers of both the Fifties and the Eighties, in each case from the vantage point of an adult, my anecdotal impression is that, on the whole, I can discern no qualitative difference in the rottenness quotient of these two generations.
Thus I found it relatively easy to dismiss the impressionistic arguments about comparative qualitative degrees of rottenness put forth by such nongovernmental propagandists as the Yorks. More troubling, however, were the quantitative arguments from official sources, especially those that said the death rate of our young people today was worse than in the past. If there is one set of figures that seems to be reliable over much of the world, it is that relating to deaths, and I am still enough of an old-fashioned Amer-ican to trust that my government will not purposely distort simple statistical fact. For that reason, I was deeply concerned by state-ments issued by the federal government which pointed with alarm to the death rate of our youth. For example, President Reagan's own apparently definitive 1984 National Strategy for Prevention of Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking declared flatly: "During the past 20 years, the health of all Americans has been improving, with one notable exception. The death rate for young Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is higher than it was 20 years ago. Alcohol and drug abuse are the major contributors to these un-necessary deaths." That is a powerful indictment from the nation's leader of the harshness of the drug habits of this generation of our youth when compared with those in the past.
Such precise statements from seemingly unimpeachable sources about the adverse health consequences of horrible drug habits, especially those involving illegal chemicals, abound in the recent writings of many drug-abuse experts. Marsha Manatt wrote in Parents, Peers, and Pot II (1983), a book funded and distributed by the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse, of how Dr. DuPont had been going about the country inspiring the parents' movement with the new, true biological facts about drugs. He appeared, for example, in Texas to speak before the Texan's War on Drugs Committee, including Ross Perot, the leader of the war. "Robert DuPont . . . had a tremendous impact on the group," Dr. Manatt wrote. "His historical overview of the rise in marijuana use among teenagers from 2 percent in 1962 to 60 percent in 1979, and his revelation that young people between the ages of 18 and 25 are the only age group in the country with a rising death rate . . . helped the committee understand the epidemic seriousness of the drug problem."
There you have it, the fatal connection—American children are smoking marijuana at a record rate and they are dying at a record rate. Dr. DuPont also stated in his Texas speech: "If young people do not smoke pot, they simply do not use any other illegal drug; to reject marijuana is to reject the whole drug culture." Many members of the public interpret these statements to mean: stop our ldds from smoldng pot and thus save them from death.
Dr. DuPont expanded on these points in his 1984 book, Getting Tough on Gateway Drugs. In addition, he cited a whole host of teenage problems that were "strongly associated with drug use," including higher rates of suicide, motor vehicle accident deaths, pregnancy, and lower Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.
Therefore, the proponents of current policies make repeated claims that there is solid statistical support for their position that this generation of American youth is being destroyed by drugs.
SEEKING THE TRUTH ABOUT YOUTH
For several years, numerous assistants and I have been engaged in a quest to fmd support for that position. We have gone straight to the source of every major claim of impending youth collapse-- to the heads of the White House Drug Abuse Policy Office, DEA, NIDA, ADAMHA, and Dr. DuPont's American Council on Drug Education, and to all of the major agencies that compile health and census data. In some cases this search has taken the form of critical articles challenging the authorities, in effect, to put up or shut up. In other cases it has involved personal visits, persistent telephone calls, and letters. We have found most of the alarmist position to be as solid as a child's sand castle.
For example, on November 2 and 9, 1983, a nationwide media attack on the allegedly growing problem of youth drug abuse in two parts, called "The Chemical People," was launched through 300 PBS stations and 11,000 local meetings. Mrs. Reagan appeared on both programs as the host. At no point during either program was any mention made of the good news about our youth. For example, marijuana use had already started to drop during 1979 and 1980, the last two years of the Carter administration. In 1979, 16.7 percent of all youth aged 12-17 stated they had used pot at least once in the last month, the definition of current marijuana use. The federal figure for 1982 was 11.5 percent, a drop of almost one-third in a few years! Recently, there has been a change in the federal government's line: there has indeed been a drop in mari-juana use and it has been brought about directly by the Reagan administration and the parents' movement.
The good news on the death rate has been totally ignored, as of this writing, in public declarations by the Reagans and all federal drug-abuse officials. It is true that while death rates for all groups were steadily dropping, the death rate for youth aged 15 to 24 increased from 106 deaths per 100,000 in 1960 to 129 in 1969, a rise of 22 percent. No expert has ever explained that rapid, fatal spurt, and for good reasons--it may well be unexplainable. By the early Eighties, happily, it had simply gone away. By 1982, the rate had dropped to 105, the lowest in history, and by 1983, to 96 deaths per 100,000, the first time that it had fallen below 100. The overall health of the nation is improving wonderfully. A child born in 1900 had a life expectancy of 47 years; in 1983, despite the cries of the drug alarmists and current high levels of illegal drug use, that expectancy at birth had risen 60 percent to 75 years.
It is immoral for our leaders to ignore or pervert these data for selfish purposes. Such actions can only lend weight to the suspicion that these leaders are deliberately hiding good news about our youth because it does not fit their political game plan about drugs, which requires a high level of public hysteria and alarm.
One of my research assistants has persistently called the major agency offices asking for explanations of these distortions. In most cases, as with the staff of Dr. Ian MacDonald at ADAMHA, the response was that they would get back to us--or, later, in exas-peration, "These facts are commonly accepted by everyone; please do not bother us any more for documentation." Early in 1985, a junior staff person at the White House drug policy office responded to one of these calls--for data to support the bad news about kids-- with a petulant Catch-22 response that may hold a portent of the future: we are not sure if the youth drug situation is improving or worsening, the person said, but if it is getting better, the admin-istration and the parent movement caused it; if worse, we need more funds to fight the problem!
We did fmd discouraging pieces of information in the federal data about our youth, some of the worst concerning deaths from intoxicated driving. There is no doubt that auto accidents are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24. Alcohol and other drugs seem to have played a role in approximately half of all these deaths in recent years, approximately 10,000 young-sters annually thus being the victims of improper use of chemicals. But there are no reliable indicators as to the rate of drunk-driving deaths among youth in most past decades. For many years, the leading cause of death for young people has been motor vehicle accidents. However, any claim that this generation of American ldds is significantly worse than past ones on this score is simply unsupported by the facts we uncovered.
Indeed, those facts seem to point in the opposite direction. The overall motor vehicle death rate for youth 15-24 peaked in 1970 (47 per 100,000), commenced dropping in the Seventies, and then declined way down to 35 by 1983, almost the lowest in recent history. So also does it appear that intoxicated driving deaths by our youth are dropping, although the precise extent is not yet known. Today's generation of youth may well be safer drivers than those in the past, an improvement that began to take shape long before Mr. Reagan came to Washington. Declining highway deaths may well have been caused by numerous factors such as laws re-quiring seat belts and a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. Neverthe-less, the Reagan administration, prodded by such new groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), is making major efforts to curb drunk driving by young and old. All are to be commended for their worth-while work in this area.
YOUTH SUICIDES: WHY SO MANY?
There are precious few signs of improvement, however, to be found in the data on the youth suicide rate, which almost tripled in the thirty years between 1950 and 1980.* At least 5,200 youths between the ages of 15 and 24 commit suicide every year, according to the Centers for Dise,ase Control, a federal agency in Atlanta. There is no doubt, moreover, of a relationship between the taking of depressants, such as alcohol, heroin, and barbiturates, and an increased risk of suicide. It is a grim, vicious circle. Often, people who are depressed to start with take such drugs to relieve their depression, and for a while they feel better. Over time, these drugs tend to increase depression in many users, however. In some cases, they deliberately use those drugs to end it all. Suicides among British heroin addicts, for example, have been approximately 20 times the expected rate compared to the total population. There-fore, any young person who is regularly taking depressants should be watched, humanely controlled, and helped to the greatest extent possible.
All of which leads us to the broader and more important ques-tion. Has the increased youth national suicide rate been caused by an increase in drug taking? The drug-war zealots assume the cause-and-effect connection immediately, and also give the impression in their literature and speeches that drug-induced suicides are a major threat to large numbers of American young people. For example, a recent issue of Epidemic, published by the Straight, Inc., Na-tional Development and Training Center in St. Petersburg, had a bold red headline on the first page: "SUICIDE." The story fairly screamed, "Drug use left unchecked is a terminal disease--it kills." Dr. Richard Schwartz, a George Washington University medical school professor and the medical director of the Springfield, Va., Straight, supported the hysteria by (1) repeating the misleading information about the rise in the death rate of young people, which I have already shown to have changed, and then (2) stating the true facts about the general rise in youth suicides.
My belief is that only a part of the increase in the suicide rate may be due to increased alcohol and drug use. As tragic as each individual suicide is, official records reveal a small total number of drug-related youth suicides for the nation. Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the major federal source for such information which operates under a contract administered by NIDA, documented only 25 such suicides in 1984 among all of the children in this huge nation, that is, for all ages through 17. (Adult-hood is normally considered to begin at age 18.) Another 34 drug suicides were listed for ages 18 and 19, and 258 for ages 20 through 29.
The total is 317 documented drug-related suicides among the entire American population through age 29 during 1984. DAWN data for 1985, when an epidemic was allegedly in process, showed a drop in drug suicides through age 29 as compared to the previous year; the total was 279 for 1985.
Because DAWN information comes from a limited number of medical examiners (77 in 1984) located in large metropolitan areas, and is not a scientific sample, and because suicides are often hidden from public view, one might speculate that this number should be greatly inflated to arrive at the true number of youth suicides with drugs. However, that process of inflation would be pure specula-tion. On the basis of what we now know, we can reasonably con-clude that this generation of youth is not killing itself off with drugs, however much leading drug-abuse experts, congressmen, police officials, and the media may shrilly suggest that they are.
Perhaps, however, there is a form of death wish involved in much youth drug taldng that ends in deaths, even those that appear accidental. While that may be the case, the actual number of all documented drug-related sudden deaths in this nation of millions is also relatively small. The total known dead in all age groups during 1984 for all drug-abuse incidents--accidental, suicide, and unknown causes--was 3,486. The total number of children—ages 6 through 17—who died from all of those causes was 54. For ages 18 and 19, the total was 79; and for ages 20 through 29, 1,068. Thus, the total known drug-abuse overdose deaths for all our peo-ple up through age 29 in 1984 was 1,151. The figures for 1985 in these categories were slightly less, with a total of 1,137 such deaths of children and young adults. In the entire country, 52 children between the ages of 6 and 17 died from all forms of drug overdoses during 1985.
I say again that each of those deaths was a tragedy and that there were probably more deaths from drug overdoses than ap-peared in the records, but those figures are the best and most reliable we have. Whenever I bring up these comparatively low figures to proponents of the drug war, whether in the media or in professional debates, the usual response is to disbelieve their exis-tence or their accuracy.
As for the means used by youths to commit suicide, every objective study suggests that most tormented people rarely use drugs. Most youth, like older citizens, in their moments of extreme despair turn to poisons, gases, hangings, and especially to firearms.
In an authoritative article, federal research scientist Jeffrey Boyd, M.D., wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine of April 14, 1983, that the recent rise in the suicide rate was almost totally attributable to a rise in suicides by handguns. All other suicides, taken as a group, actually declined. Illegal drugs were not even mentioned by Dr. Boyd. He suggested not greater controls on drugs but (1) greater controls on handguns which might well reduce the number of suicides and (2) a reduction in the carbon monoxide content of domestic gas. The latter measure had resulted, he said, in a reduction in the suicide rate in Britain. Such calm, sensible suggestions, even when made by governmental experts, are gen-erally ignored in discussions of youth and drugs because they do not fit into the prevailing hysterical public mood.
If drugs and alcohol are not the causes of the great rise in youth suicides, what are those causes? A review of much recent literature by specialists in the subject convinced me that, up to now, science has provided no clear answer and most honest experts are not blaming illegal drugs. My students, who are experts in a sense, insist that the greatest cause of the rise in adolescent suicides may be found in the great rise in stress placed upon our youth today as compared to years past. I report this with mixed feelings be-cause I thought my world as a youngster was full of stress. Yet my students protest with some vehemence that the world imposed on them by adults contains distressing economic insecurity, ter-rorist explosions and hijackings, the smell of war everywhere, the threat of nuclear incineration pressing ever more closely from two superpowers who are being more warlike than ever—and in the face of all this, the youth are told that they must excel at their studies and at a lot of other endeavors and do it all without drugs or alcohol. You adults want us to face these anxieties and horrors drug-free, they say, while you slop up all the prescribed and non-prescribed soothing syrup you can!
It is a wonder, they continue, their voices rising, that more young people do not commit suicide. Whether or not my students are correct, it seems certain that those who blame the rising suicide rate of our young people on drugs are simply guessing, and prob-ably incorrectly.
One could even work up a good argument that the use of certain drugs in some circumstances will ease psychic pain and prevent suicide. A young depressed person using a depressant like alcohol may be helped by a switch to marijuana, as outrageous as that sounds, because the latter drug tends to reduce depression for some but by no means all users. One mature addict I met, whose case is discussed in detail later, said that he suffered from emotional and metabolic deficiencies and was suicidal as a youngster; ac-cordingly, he argued that he should have been maintained on pow-erful narcotic drugs under the watchful eyes of a physician starting at age 15. I have no idea if his claims were accurate. However, I do know that some treatment experts, who believe in drug-free therapy for most of their patients, have told me that they never-theless saw that some of their patients were kept functioning for a good part of their lives only by their licit or illicit drug use.
The best cures for suicidal tendencies are joy, love, and human warmth, which are also the best cures for drug abuse. Yet drugs play a role in both preventing and causing suicides. My g-uess is that today drugs probably prevent as many youth suicides as they cause, but the exact causal relationships in youth suicides remain unclear in my mind.
When I dug into the welter of often confusing facts about all of the other supposed products of drug abuse by our youth, I came up with even more questionable causal connections. Consider Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, for example. In 1963, the verbal national mean average was 478 and the mathematical was 502. Starting in 1964, there was a significant drop in both national averages, which continued until 1981 when they had declined to 424 and 466. Why? During this period, there had been a rise in illegal drug use, especially marijuana, and there were those who were quick to lay the blame, as we have seen, on drugs.
However, the drug alarmists managed again to ignore much of the impartial evidence. An authoritative and comprehensive study on the decline in SAT scores was released by the College Entrance Examination Board in 1977. While not certain of the reasons for the decline, the panel eventually concluded that the most likely cause was the inclusion of greater numbers of formerly excluded people in the educational process. In other words, not drugs but democracy and economic opportunity may well have been the most powerful reasons for th,e drop in scores; the population of test-takers had changed. As minorities and previously disadvantaged people improve at the educational game, a rise in all SAT scores seems probable. That general rise has already started to occur. The SAT scores for college-bound seniors in 1985 had risen to a national verbal average of 431 and a national math average of 475.
Of course, if any young person smokes marijuana during the school day, that youngster may well do poorly in school and also on the SAT. Marijuana, however, does not offer a new, special threat to the education of our children. Any intoxicant tends to interfere with the learning process. A child who drinks beer or his aunt Matilda's sherry at recess will be equally at risk of failing. Marijuana, then, is not the issue, nor is any other illegal drug; keeping a clear head while learning is. Nor are children the only ones in danger of not learning due to intoxicants. The use of any intoxicant--whether stout English beer, fme Amontillado sherry, or Maui Waui pot--by anyone so as to interfere with education or work is a perfect example of drug abuse.
It is possible, on the other hand, for people, young and old, to use marijuana and alcohol responsibly. I have met dozens, perhaps hundreds, of students over the past three decades who claimed to have used them during the evenings and on weekends to relax and enjoy themselves. Of their use, of course, I have no documentary proof. All I know is that many who made such claims did superbly on examinations and went on to brilliant professional careers. Moreover, I have met many people, not necessarily my own stu-dents, who alleged that they would never have made it through school without the regular use of marijuana or other chemicals to calm the enormous amdeties attendant upon the educational pro-cess. The existence of those successful drug-calmed students flies in the face of most of the orthodox dogma about the universally destructive effects of drugs. It is even conceivable that the number of young people helped through school by the responsible use of alcohol and drugs may be roughly equal to the number hindered in attaining their educational goals because of the irresponsible use of such chemicals.
I fear that these statements will be misinterpreted as an en-dorsement of student drug and alcohol use. I wish students would not use any intoxicant and am deeply concerned about those who become dependent. At the same time, I must honestly report my conclusions about the factual connections I have studied.
Even weaker factual connections exist between drug abuse and teenage pregnancies. The new puritans of the drug-free youth movement actually place a large part of the blame for our huge number of teenage pregnancies on the improper use of drugs. The truth is that our young girls are not being sexually corrupted by drugs and alcohol; rather, both our boys and girls are being harmed by adult-imposed ignorance, prophylactic lies, and conflicting mes-sages about sexual behavior and dnigs. Within the space of a few days on their bedroom television sets, our young people can watch Hawkeye get sloppy drunk with the whole MASH gang and then engage in a happy mutual seduction with an eager nurse in the supply room; Mrs. Joanna Springsteen, playing a 17-year-old life-guard, make a voluptuous display for two hours on a beach with her nipples periodically poking through her T-shirt, which display is interrupted only when the precocious child goes to bed with her boyfriend; and in between it all for thirty seconds a public service ad from the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth telling kids to just say no to drugs.
Based on a major study of teenage pregnancy in advanced coun-tries, the Alan Guttmacher Institute reported in 1985 that the United States leads the developed world in teenage births, abor-tions, and pregnancies--and is the only such country in which teenage pregnancy has been increasing recently. Black teenagers constitute a major part of the problem for the U.S., but even if only whites are considered, the pregnancy rate for this country is considerably higher than most others. The researchers found the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in those countries with the most liberal attitudes toward sex as well as the greatest amount of honest information, such as frank education courses, and confiden-tial availability of birth control devices. In other words, when youngsters were taught how to be responsible participants in sex, pregnancies were reduced. It all had nothing to do with drugs but rather with replacing ignorance with information and assistance. Indeed, Holland, which has the most liberal attitude on drugs of any Western country, also had the lowest teenage birthrate of all of the countries studied: 14 per thousand girls aged 15-19, com-pared to 96 for the United States.
The authors of the report observed that "none of the other [countries] have developed official programs designed to discourage teenagers from having sexual relations--a program innovation that is now advocated and subsidized by the U.S. government." That program, of course, is not effective.
"American teenagers seem to have inherited the worst of all possible worlds regarding their exposure to messages about sex," concluded the Guttmacher researchers. "Movies, music, radio, and TV tell them that sex is romantic, exciting, titillating; premarital sex and cohabitation are visible ways of life among the adults they see and hear about; their own parents or their parents' friends are likely to be divorced or separated but involved in sexual relation-ships. Yet, at the same time, young people get the message good girls should say no. Almost nothing they see or hear about sex informs them about contraception or the importance of avoiding pregnancy." Thus there are striking similarities between the twin drives toward drug-free and sex-free youth—and between their perverse products.
More recent reports on black teenage pregnancies illustrate that ignorance is not the main part of the problem. In many poor ghetto communities, teenage girls pick up a great deal of infor-mation from their mothers and from their friends--and also values that encourage teenage pregnancy in some circumstances. Many young black girls get pregnant to have somebody to love, to keep their man, or to achieve success at a personal task. It is a sad situation that should cause all decent people, of all races, to be deeply concerned.
Yet to suggest that drugs caused or were a major factor in the current pregnancy epidemic among American youth of any race is to turn reason and the evidence on its head.
MARIJUANA: ASSASSIN OF YOUTH?
Both reason and the evidence are securely upside down when it comes to marijuana. Marijuana is increasingly proclaimed as the major cause of the downfall of our youth. In her foreword to Peggy Mann's Marijuana Alert in 1985, the First Lady went even further when she declared that the book was "a true story about a drug that is taking America captive." Not only our youth, but the whole country. That book is one of the latest and most sophisticated examples of marijuana-scare literature. By mentioning only the research that tends to show marijuana's unique harmfulness, Ms. Mann implies that science has documented that the drug has spread over the country almost like a new nerve gas, paralyzing its people, especially youth.
Ms. Mann had the full cooperation of Reagan administration drug-policy officials in gathering material for her book. It has been treated by them as the definitive word on the drug. Since its pub-lication, some of those officials have gone even further in finding new dangers from marijuana. Dr. Ian MacDonald alleged in 1986 that there was a connection between marijuana use and AIDS-- the connection being that intravenous drug users often get AIDS and many of them started their drug careers with marijuana. Dr. Carlton Turner added fuel to the fears of 1986 by stating at various points during the year that there were new dangers in the in-creased potency of marijuana, in its connection with AIDS, and—a startling new claim—in a causal link with becoming homosexual. The story was broken by Newsweek reporter Margaret Garrard Warner, who wrote that Dr. Turner had said that he saw many homosexuals in drug-treatment centers. Ms. Warner had asked Dr. Turner, "Weren't these men maybe gay first?" The leading White House expert on drugs, especially marijuana, replied, "Oh, no, the drug came first." Dr. Turner later heatedly denied that he ever said that pot "caused" young people to become gay and went on to explain that he meant that the use of drugs caused them to lose "inhibitions against everything."
A balanced review of all the authoritative research during the past century documents no distinctive harm from marijuana. Its addictive threat comes from the fact that it is an intoxicant, but any intoxicant taken compulsively presents possible dangers to young people. Its threat to physical health comes from the fact that it is absorbed in the form of smoke, but any smoke, even from corn silk or chopped parsley, taken regularly into the body could eventually cause serious harm to some people.
Ever major impartial official study —ranging from the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report in 1894 by British and Indian experts to the National Research Council report, An Analysis of Marijuana Policy, by American specialists in 1982—reached roughly similar conclusions: marijuana presented some danger to the people who used it, but the actual level of harm was consistently exag-gerated and control measures were frequently too harsh*rhus there is a long history of rational official studies on marijuana existing side by side with periodic official revelations of alleged new dangers suddenly discovered.
When dealing with the public, some government medical ex-perts often act as does Ms. Mann in her writing: they choose to mention only those scientific conclusions which support their per-sonal point of view. In a pamphlet aimed at the general public—"For Parents Only: VVhat You Need to Know About Marijuana"— NIDA stated, "In one study on humans, it was found that smoking five joints a week over time is more irritating to the air passages and impairs the lungs' ability to exhale air [more] than smoking almost six packs of cigarettes a week." I cannot count the times that this precise claim has been thrown at me in debates.
On December 6, 1982, I had the opportunity in a public debate at American University to ask Dr. William Pollin, who had signed the foreword to that pamphlet in his then-capacity as director of NIDA, why he did not warn the public that the objective research findings were inconclusive, fragmentary, and often contradictory. I read from his own testimony before a congressional committee in which he had cited that famous joint-to-pack comparison and then followed it with this caution: "This comparison, while widely quoted, needs confirmation by independent studies." I also read to him sections of a report from the American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs which reviewed research on the impact of these drugs on lung tissue and ftmctioning. That report cited one study with laboratory mice that showed tobacco to be more carcinogenic than marijuana, another with just the opposite re-sults, and then concluded, "the degree of comparability of mari-juana and tobacco smoke in pulmonary effects is still debatable." In other words, science could not honestly tell if tobacco or mar-ijuana hurts the lungs more.
Then I asked Dr. Pollin why his agency had not simply told parents that while marijuana carried definite risks, science had not demonstrated that this drug was worse than tobacco. I also asked why he signed his name to a document that revealed only one side of the scientific findings while telling the parents of the country that this one side constituted the full scientific evidence. The di-rector of the leading federal research agency on drug abuse re-sponded that in light of the apparent disposition of the government during the Seventies to downplay the dangers of pot, perhaps now it was leaning in the other direction and exaggerating them.
Nevertheless, NIDA has consistently issued objective statis-tical reports through the DAWN system, which is based not on laboratory research but on actual deaths and injuries resulting from the abuse of drugs by real human beings living in American society. (These reports are to be distinguished from those based on a wide variety of secondary sources, such as those by the Surgeon General which estimate 350,000 tobacco deaths and 150,000 alcohol deaths each year, and which include mainly deaths from organic diseases caused by long-term use.) During 1984, as I noted earlier, DAWN reported 3,486 drug-abuse deaths, primarily overdoses, which in-volved the nonmedical use of any substance. As is the standard procedure, the pathologists listed the drugs—normally more than one--found in each of the bodies which seemed to have some con-nection with each death. These "mentions" were then tabulated into a national profile by DAWN staff.
There were a total of 7,623 mentions for that whole year. The drug with the greatest number of mentions (1,131) in 1984 was "alcohol-in-combination." This is a curious listing because DAWN reports on deaths from alcohol only when found in combination with other drugs in the body of a person who died suddenly. In any event, this method does not distort the truth because that friendly drug was still duly put at the top of the list by the medical examiners. Coming immediately behind in the lethal national rank-ings were heroin, cocaine, codeine, and quinine. Valium was in seventh place with 279 mentions; Darvon, with 237 mentions, was in eighth place; Tylenol, vvith 180, was in tenth place; and aspirin, with 121, in fourteenth. Marijuana, with eighteen mentions, was near the bottom of the list in forty-second place, and figured in .50 percent of the deaths. Thus, a medical examiner felt it important to mention marijuana in one half of one percent of the drug overdose deaths encountered, amounting, by my calculations, to 17 fatalities for the nation in the latest official compilations.
For a period of several years, I have asked the DAWN staff about the meaning of such mentions of marijuana. DAWN staff are not aware of a single instance in which marijuana, though found in the body of the deceased, was deemed to have been the principal cause of death. While these rankings have varied somewhat over the years, the overall comparative picture of drug dangers has changed little. That picture is similar to the one presented by other sources of vital statistics and by other experts, such as perhaps the leading authority on marijuana in the country, Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard University Medical School.
While there has been a national obsession with controlling mar-ijuana, and while the war on drugs primarily nets marijuana of-fenders, there is unimpeachable pathological evidence that our youth and adults are in greater danger from many other legal drugs, some of which are totally uncontrolled by the law. As far as I can determine, it is almost impossible to take a fatal overdose of mar-ijuana, even though such claims are often made by drug-war zeal-ots. After several decades of massive marijuana use by an officially estimated total of 61,940,000 Americans at least once in their lives, it is as yet impossible to identify a single overdose, accidental, or suicide fatality caused primarily by mari,juana use when there have been many such deaths identified from abuse of such substances as Darvon, Valium, Tylenol, and aspirin! It is solid evidence such as this, issued by the Reagan administration and always ignored by the Reagans and ridiculed by their supporters as misleading, that leads me to the conclusion about the safety of marijuana as compared to other commonly used substances. As actually used by the great majority of consumers, marijuana appears to be one of the least toxic drugs that human beings take.
This is not, however, an endorsement of marijuana. It has many dangers. First, it is an intoxicant and for some people it is poten-tially addicting. Second, when smoked, it is probably at least as organically harmful as tobacco smoke and in time I predict there will be documented deaths from its persistent use, although per-haps not from overdosing on it. Because very few people use marijuana as compulsively as perhaps 85 percent of smokers use tobacco--56,000,000 smokers fix 20 times a day or more--the num-ber of cancer and heart disease deaths from marijuana should be minuscule compared to tobacco. Those deaths, though, will occur.
IS MARIJUANA A GATEWAY DRUG?
My greatest objection to marijuana is that it involves smoking. My personal fear is that if I ever used it, the habit of smoking might lead me back to tobacco and not on to heroin or cocaine, as the gateway-drug theorists claim. That theory is also sometimes de-scribed as the escalation theory. However it is labeled, it does not make much sense in reality. Just about as much sense, in fact, as the statement by the heavy drinker who said he was going to quit drinking water since he found that he got in trouble when he took bourbon and water, Scotch and water, and gin and water; water was the only common factor. So water was clearly his real problem.
Nevertheless, there are few ideas so commonly accepted by all of the drug-war and marijuana-scare proponents as the escalation or gateway theory. Since he became attorney general in 1985, Edwin Meese keeps repeating the theory, almost as a testament to his faith. In its 1986 report, the President's Commission on Organized Crime declared flatly, "While many beliefs about mar-ijuana have been proven wrong by subsequent research, this con-cept has been affirmed." The warrior medical experts seem to imply that there is something in the chemical structure of the drug that sucks many young occasional users through that gate and on to harder drugs and into the whole drug culture. Thus if that gate is kept closed to our youth, then that illegal culture is never entered. However, except in the imaginations of a few people, there is no identifiable element that makes the illegal drugs, on the whole, significantly worse than the legal ones.
In fact, many of those unfortunate people who feel impelled to use and then to abuse mind-altering drugs often do not distinguish between legal and illegal substances. Certain drug addicts may specialize in taking heroin and to that extent they are involved in a criminal subculture. When heroin runs dry, however, they will turn to alcohol or prescribed methadone or Valium, all legal. Many of these addicts tried marijuana before they tried heroin but pot did not impel them to heroin. Their drive to alter consciousness with chemicals led them to both and they chose the former because pot is often the easiest drug to find, even more available to many young people than beer. Repeated studies have documented, though, that the first mind-altering chemical most young people use is alcohol. On the basis of such irrefutable evidence, we could pos-tulate that the major gateway drug for millions of our ldds is not pot, but alcohol, that alcohol leads to all drugs, and that therefore we should have a war on alcohol, starting with a new prohibition law. Other research suggests a similar role for tobacco, thus raising the possibility of another prohibition law based upon a different gateway drug.
I find little support for the gateway theory as applied to pot in any of the data issued by the government, including the massive surveys of residents of households put out periodically by NIDA. To me, they prove conclusively that (1) pot smoking usually leads only to more pot smoking; (2) many young people smoke pot a great deal, then get bored with it, and cut down or stop totally; (3) a minority of pot smokers move on to harder drugs or continue to smoke pot along with those more potent chemicals. I can fmd no evidence of a causal link between, say, pot smoldng and heroin injection or cocaine sniffing in these surveys.
I searched for clues on the gateway theory in The National Survey on Drug Abuse: 1982, based upon detailed personal inter-views with a scientific sample of over 5,000 people, which concluded that the great majority of marijuana users smoke it only occasion-ally as children (12,17 years) and also as young adults (18-25). What about the young ldds who seem preoccupied with pot during some phases of their adolescence? While this can lead to terrible problems for a small percentage of children, the report saw even this idnd of use as not harmful to the great majority. "A particularly intensive level of marijuana use often represents a passing phase in the marijuana use career," according to The National Survey, which then explained that many " 'occasional' users quit entirely" and that "many 'intensive' users drop back to moderate levels of consumption."
If the escalation theory worked for large numbers, then the percentage of users would be higher for other drugs, especially the illegal ones and especially for older users. The opposite was true.
Results of the larger 1985 household survey of drug use were similar in respect to the gateway theory, in my opinion. Projections were made of the total number of people in the United States who had ever used an illegal drug and of those who were current users (who had used it at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey). It was estimated that 61,940,000 people had used pot and that 18,190,000 were current users. Yet there were only 5,750,000 cur-rent users of cocaine and the number of current heroin users was so small (less than .5 percent of the sample) that estimates were impossible. I do not mean to downplay the problem of heroin and cocaine--only to point out humbly that if the marijuana gateway theory made any sense, then many more of those 61 million who had smoked pot would have gone on to those harder drugs.
These comprehensive federal studies document the continued existence in America of the responsible, controlled use of mari-juana. Millions of our children and young adults are sufficiently in control of their minds and bodies to use marijuana for months and years--and then to make significant changes in their patterns of use as a matter of personal choice. Those changes rarely entail moving on to harder drugs.
It could be that for many of these young people marijuana may well work more as a filter than a gateway. Dr. Dale Beckett of Surrey, just south of London, has spent over two decades in the medical front lines treating heroin addicts and other people with drug problems. He found that as many adolescents struggle with the agonies of that stressful period they reach for some form of a chemical crutch. The physician believes that many potential addicts are able to calm their anxieties with minor drugs such as marijuana in moderate doses. "However, if personality defects are so great that minor drugs do not help him enough then it is possible he will try heroin," Dr. Beckett wrote. "It seems that the presence of minor drugs may actually filter off some adolescents who, if they were not available, would be likely to use narcotics from the start." Viewed in this novel light, the wide availability of marijuana may well be a positive force for society. The Beckett theory stands the escalation theory neatly on its head.
Whether it is a gateway or a filter, marijuana is smoked mainly by adults. Only about one in seven of current American marijuana smokers is a child, according to that NIDA household survey in 1985. Smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 accounted for 14.6 percent of the total of current users.
One of the few facts put forth by the drug alarmists that I found to be absolutely true is that illegal drug use has indeed risen since the early Sixties. Back then, approximately 2 percent of youth had ever used an illegal drug; that figure peaked at 68 percent in 1979. The rise is conventionally trumpeted as an epidemic of crisis pro-portions. And yet we have seen that our children are not dying in huge numbers from these drugs and also that their death rates are at a historical low and life expectancy at a historical high. There is reason to believe that this generation of our youth, along with the rest of the population, are using great quantities of illicit drugs but that their physical and mental health, on the whole, are not being seriously harmed by those drugs. At the same time, too many of our young people are tormented by the disease of drug addiction and deserve all of the help that society can muster. Those young people in need of treatment will not be helped, however, by wild claims that the entire generation is being destroyed by illegal chemicals.
NONDRUG THREATS TO OUR YOUTH
The public furor over drugs diverts national attention from the fact that this is the healthiest generation of youth in our history and also that many threats to our children come from other, more innocent-appearing sources. Parents and other family members, for example. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop spoke recently of the rising "epidemic of family violence" as evidenced by an increase in reported cases of child abuse and neglect from 500,000 in 1976 to 850,000 in 1981. Because so many cases are unreported, he put the total number of 2,000,000 annually in each recent year.
Documented cases of actual murders by parents of their chil-dren are, thankfully, of much smaller dimensions. Yet such cases do exist and thereby support the existence of a brooding and gen-erally ignored threat to the safety of the nation's children and young people. A special computer run of FBI crime reports, per-formed at my request, came up with the distressing data that during 1983 alone, 408 American children up through the age of 14 and 93 aged 15-24 were murdered by their parents, a grisly total of 501 known victims.
Overall homicide rates from all assailants for children and young adults are rising at an epidemic rate. The increase for young white men in the age group 15-24 years is startling, from 3.7 per hundred thousand in 1950 to 15.5 in 1980. The comparable figures for young black men show a less dramatic rise but, at the same time, a more disturbing situation: a rate of 58.9 in 1950 and 84.3 in 1980. Thus 84 out of every 100,000 young black men in the country were murdered in 1980. In many of these murders among both races the use of alcohol and drugs played a role, but usually by reduc-ing the inhibitions of the older assailants and not by directly harm-ing the young victims.
In 1984, according to the FBI, 2,060 young people up through the age of 19 were murdered; another 5,527 in their twenties were also homicide victims; thus, a total of 7,587 Americans under the age of 30 were killed by other Americans, mainly by relatives and friends. The comparable figure for drug-abuse deaths, as we saw, was 1,151 that year. The principal means by which Americans Id11 one another is the firearm. The leading choice of firearm murderers is the handgun. Even though President Reagan was very nearly one of those handgun victims, and has never, as far as I know, been harmed by drugs, there is no national war on homicides in the family, on handguns, or on any of the other instruments and activities that constitute a much greater threat to the health and safety of Americans of all ages than drugs.
Great threats to our children and young people come from ac-cidents involving any one of a thousand ordinary objects and ac-tivities, which normally get only passing mention in the press. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is a relatively new agency that is just beginning to develop methods of collecting in-formation on deaths and injuries. Even from its incomplete files, between 1981 and 1985 it appeared that there had been a total of 34 deaths of American children due to suffocation from ingesting toy balloons. While that is a seemingly insignificant number, it is 34 more than I could discover for marijuana.
Swimming provides another innocent example. During 1985, the CPSC recorded 337 deaths of young people up to the age of 24 in swimming pools, and another 249 in swimming accidents elsewhere.
Another threat to the health and welfare of our youth is found in a combination of poor diet and lack of exercise. The pace and pressures of daily life combined with the recent boom in the number of fast-food outlets has meant that children and adolescents are eating more hamburgers, pizzas, french fries, and milkshakes. Those billions of McDonald's hamburgers boasted about on the golden arches are not being sold to laboratory mice. In addition to con-suming huge quantities of fatty and starchy food, the average teenager takes in an average of seven hours of television a day. Even though the nation seems to be going through an exercise craze, some experts claim that, among young people, vigorous athletic activity is more and more restricted to a small group of youngsters who are seeking careers in sports.
The documented results are disturbing. An examination of 360 elementary schoolchildren recently in Jackson County, Michigan, discovered that 98 percent had at least one major risk factor for heart disease. High blood pressure was found in 28 percent, ex-cessively high levels of cholesterol in 45 percent, and a combination of three or more risk factors in more than 50 percent. When Dr. Gerald Berenson of Louisiana State University autopsied children who had just died in automobile accidents, he found that some of them had both high cholesterol and fatty deposits in the arteries that could well lead to heart attacks. In the recent report of the National Children and Youth Fitness Study researchers told of how they had measured the thickness of the skin and fat in 8,800 youths and compared the results with past records. Professor Lloyd Kolbe of the University of Texas concluded, "In our representative sampling of kids from fifth to twelfth grade, we found that both boys and girls were significantly fatter than those studied in the Sixties."
In 1986, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in the nation's capital, reported on precisely how unhealthy the fast-food craze was becoming. Burger King's Double Beef Whopper contains 12 teaspoons of fat. A small order of Chicken McNuggets at McDonald's contains nearly twice as much fat as that hamburger. A triple cheeseburger from Wendy's contains 15 teaspoons of life-threatening grease. "America is the world's greasiest greasy spoon," wrote columnist Colman McCarthy in reporting these facts. He continued, "It is also the nation where the swallowed fat is part of the reason that heart or blood-vessel diseases ldlled more than 980,000 people in 1983."
Even though these nondrug threats to our youth are significant, they do not change the claim that this is the healthiest generation of youth in our history. These threats are cited, not to contradict that position, but to bring balance to the discussion about the relative dangers of drug-taking and other activities.
When I compare pot, homicides, guns, television, toy balloons, hamburgers, swimming, and lack of exercise, a protest may well be made that I am comparing apples to oranges, that the compar-isons make no practical sense. I admit that these activities, objects, and events are very different but they have a commonality in that they all have an impact on the health and lives of millions of our young people--and they could, and do, pose a threat, sometimes of a fatal character. A child killed by an angry parent, by a handgun in the hand of a friend, by the negligence of adults in a swimming pool, or by a piece of a swallowed toy balloon should be mourned as much as one killed by an overdose of a drug.
1 * In 1950, the rate of suicides for ages 15-24 was 4.5 per 100,000 of population; in 1980, 12.3.