Drug Law

NORML Evaluates Federal Stats on Drug Treatment

| by NORML

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, is the Federal Government’s lead agency for improving the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment, and mental health services in the United States. They have released the results of their 2007 Treatment Episode Data Set, or TEDS, showing the National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Let’s take a look at the statistics for marijuana, shall we?

50% increase in marijuana treatment admissions in one decade

In 1997, about 200,000 people checked into treatment for marijuana. By 2005, that number has risen to over 300,000 people, though it has tapered off a bit these last couple of years. By any account, this is a huge rise in the number of people seeking rehab for marijuana in just a decade. It would seem like the powerful new “Not Your Father’s Woodstock Weed” has given rise to a 50% increase in reefer addicts!

Only 15% of marijuana "addicts" admit themselves to treatment

However, when you look behind the numbers, you find that this increase has more to do with the rapid increase of drug courts in the late ’90s, early ’00s. By far, most of the people who are in treatment for marijuana are forced there! 57% are forced into treatment by the criminal justice system, while only 15% admitted themselves to treatment. For comparison’s sake, over all drugs combined, 1/3rd of all admissions are self-admissions, marijuana is the drug with the lowest self-admission rates (lower than meth) and highest criminal justice-admission rates (higher than meth), and for alcohol, self-admission is around 29% and criminal justice (including DUI) admissions are only 42.5%.

37% of all people admitted for marijuana rehab didn't even use marijuana in the past month.

Even more interesting is a look at the actual substance use of the people admitted to treatment. Almost 4 out of ten marijuana smokers who are in treatment haven’t even used marijuana in thirty days! Again, for comparison, only 1 out of 4 alcohol admissions didn’t drink in the past month, and the number is only 1 in 6 for heroin.

Another interesting figure: almost 58% of marijuana admissions are first-time admissions to drug treatment, a number that seems suspisciously close to the 56.9% of admissions from criminal justice. That’s the highest first-time figure of all the common drugs (marijuana, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and meth). Of those drugs, marijuana and alcohol are the only ones where the majority of drug treatment admissions are not returns to treatment. Also, 31% of marijuana users in treatment are employed, a number twice that of heroin or cocaine admissions, but lower than the 42.5% of employed alcohol users in treatment.

Marijuana rehab is almost exclusively aimed at people under 25

Finally, 3/4ths of marijuana rehabbers are male, half are white, 2/3rds are under age 25. Marijuana has the lowest average age of admittance (24 years old), with all other drugs but inhalants and hallucinogens having average ages in the 30’s. The average alcohol or crack cocaine rehabber is 39 years old.

While we certainly prefer any marijuana smoker caught by law enforcement to be sent to rehab rather than jail, the sentencing of people to rehab who don’t really need it means we are wasting resources that could be better directed to the unfulfilled needs of hard drugs addicts. If alcohol and crack’s average rehab age was closer to 20 than to 40, how much time, money, and misery would we save in this country?

Instead we arrest mostly young people for their marijuana use, then sentence them to rehab, then cite the increasing numbers of young people in rehab for marijuana as proof of the increasing danger of marijuana, which is then used to justify arresting more mostly young people for their marijuana use.