Thursday, December 21, 2006

WASHINGTON - Teens increasingly are getting high with legal drugs like painkillers and mood stimulants, and they’re turning to cough syrup as well, says a government survey released Thursday. The annual study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, conducted by the University of Michigan, showed mixed results in the nation’s longtime campaign against teen drug abuse. It found that while fewer teens overall drank alcohol or used illegal drugs in the last year, a small but growing number were popping prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin and stimulants like Ritalin.

Let's take a look at some raw facts. Not opinion, facts.

A standard scientific measure of toxicity is the LD50. It means "the dose at which half the test population dies" and is normally written as the amount ingested per kilogram of weight of the subject.

        LD50 of grain alcohol:   11  g/kg
LD50 of nicotine (cigarettes): 50 mg/kg
LD50 of THC (marijuana): 1270 mg/kg

Another way of looking at this term is a ratio of how much of a "normal dose" it would take to reach the LD50. In alcohol, for example, a 150lb male would have to drink about a beer per minute for twenty minutes to hit the LD50. Since the average "dose" is two drinks, the LD50 ratio is 1:10 (20 / 2 = 10).

On the other hand, the LD50 ratio for cannabis is about 1:9,000. That's about 9,000 joints in twenty minutes to stand a significant risk of killing yourself. That's not just difficult, it's physically impossible.

In economics there is a thing called an "externality." It's when you do something to cause an effect but wind up getting just the opposite of what you planned. One of the more famous examples is Mexico which once tried to cut down on pollution by only letting half their citizens drive on any given day. The method they chose to enforce this is by letting people with license plates beginning with A-M to drive every other day, drivers with plates beginning with A-N drove the opposite days.

Unfortunately, what actually happened is that people bought a second car. This not only caused the primary goal to fail but it caused people to keep the older car around longer and older cars emit more pollution. So the planners got the exact opposite of their well-intentioned goal.

And so we, as a country, make a drug with zero toxicity illegal while allowing the sale (and even advertisement) of alcohol. Alcohol being a substance which is physically possible (even easy) to OD on and truly has a high potential for abuse.

And you want to talk about a gateway drug? How many heroin addicts do you know that didn't start with cigarettes or alcohol?

How can we, as a nation, look at news reports like this and have absolutely no honest, fact-based dialogue about how we can mitigate abuse of drugs that are actually dangerous?

This is a problem of your own creation, a problem of your own, blithely ignorant drug policy, America.

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