Mental Health Care Fails at Addiction Treatment

We’re facing a national tragedy of mental health misdiagnoses because American psychiatry is failing to treat root causes.  Too often young people with mental health symptoms are lumped into categories and given potent anti-depressants, benzodiazapines and/or neuroleptics, while the doctors or mental health treatment centers ignore symptoms of marijuana addiction and fail to treat the addiction.  In some cases, a psychotic episode is treated as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia rather than drug-induced psychosis.*

It may be time for widespread re-education of psychiatrists and emergency room physicians. Continue reading

Goliath Fails to Topple David in Oregon

American politics is full of bullies, but nowhere are the bullies more apparent than in the groups trying to legalize marijuana.  In Oregon, the marijuana financiers, including George Soros’ Drug Policy Action, donated $9,273,848 towards Measure 91, the successful marijuana legalization ballot which won by a large margin in 2014. The opposition raised only $179,672 .  A similar ballot failed in the state two years earlier, when the financial backers of marijuana  gave their money to ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington, instead of Oregon. Continue reading

Twenty Children, Twenty Deaths Tied to Marijuana

At least 20 small children have died nationwide because of their parents’ or caretaker’s marijuana usage, since Colorado and Washington voted to legalize pot.    It began in November 2012,  just over two years ago, and it continues to happen in 2015.  Four of those deaths occurred in Colorado, three in California.

It’s high time that a parents’ marijuana usage becomes part of the national discussion of child custody and visitation. It’s hard to understand why Doreen Reyes of Palmetto Bay, FL, had to allow her son, 4-year old Javon Dade, Jr., overnight visitation to the father who used marijuana, cocaine, had several drug arrests and kept pit bulls.  The last time Javon spent the night with him was  in August, the time that he died.

Children’s deaths — involving parents whose marijuana use interfered with parenting — have occurred in every corner of the country—from Vermont to Florida, from Michigan to Texas, from Oregon to Arizona, from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. The more pot promoters say that marijuana is harmless and justify their growing industry, the more neglected and abused children there will be; some will suffer and die — unnecessarily.

Marijuana users—if addicted– have a tendency to lose a sense of time and be neglectful parents, or in some cases, abusive. Unfortunately, in many cases, both parents are drug abusers.   Many medical marijuana “patients” prefer to convert pot into hash oil.  When these “patients” use butane or other flammables, they should not be given custody and should only be allowed supervised visitation.  Too many fires have resulted in children treated for burns.

Children who died in Fires, Hot Cars

Levi Welton, Kyheir and Dyheir Arthur, Andre Sosa-Martinez and Lileigh Kellenears died in fires.  Levi Welton died in a fire while his parents used pot with friends in another room.  Sosa-Martinez’s mother was also home when he died, but she was too stoned to notice sooner, or to react. In the other three deaths by fire, the parents had left the children home alone while the parents toked.

In Phoenix, a father smoked pot and forgot about time, as his three-month old son died in a hot car.   In El Cajon, CA, last summer, a child died because a couple left their 4-month child, while the mother smoked pot with her brother nearby.  In Kansas, it was a 10-month old baby girl who died in a foster father’s care while he bought marijuana, watched Game of Thrones and left her in the car.

Jamison Gray, Tyler and William Jensen, Kadylak Poe Jones and Giovanni Soto died in overheated cars.  With the passage of time and their parents’ marijuana usage, they were forgotten.

Jase Colby, Gabriela Guerrera, Natalye Price and Andrew Prior died because they were victims of physical abuse….and their parents were marijuana users. Kamari Taylor died because of his mom’s violent boyfriend, who left the child alone as he went out to sell pot. Paxton Stokes’ death is a little more mysterious, but it was probably the marijuana-using mom’s boyfriend who abused him.

Last year in California, 16-month old Harley Bradford and 33-month old Jason Bradford died by drowning while their stoned mother slept and ignored them. She was staying at the home of a friend who had a marijuana grow and hash oil lab. Although the boy tried to wake her, she ignored her son for many hours only to find both children had gone outside and drowned in a swimming pool. The saddest part is that relatives were going to take over custody of the children the next day.

In Vermont, the mother of Saunder Coltrane River Gilruth, smothered him to death while he slept. She admitted to smoking pot and drinking the previous night.  The mother smoked pot daily during her pregnancy, and her physician knew it.  The infant was only 27 days old, and was at risk because of his very low birth weight.  When alcohol or other drugs add to a parent’s impairment, it doesn’t minimize the danger of today’s high-strength pot.

These cases do not include the many children who have been put in harm’s way while their parents made butane hash oil, and caused explosions. Since November of 2012, at least two dozen children have been in homes, apartments or hotels where BHO fires occurred, in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California and Montana.  A tremendous amount of luck, and quick emergency services, have allowed these children to survive.

While the Press reports on the glamor of those in the marijuana business, young people and young parents have the wrong impression of marijuana’s risks. While everyone acknowledges that heavy drinking or 2nd-hand tobacco smoke are a risks for children, pot users are treated as celebrities. Thanks to Maureen Dowd’s expose in the NY Times, people have been warned to keep marijuana edibles from children.

However, where is the justice for these 20 children who died?

The Children Who Survive

Not all child abuse cases involving marijuana end in death.   One  recent case of child brutality involved a marijuana-addicted mom in Arizona.  The mom has been arrested, and the little girl survives.  In Florida, a man threw a crying 11-month old baby who suffered terrible injuries but is still alive.   Another mother and her boyfriend in Florida smoked pot all morning and ignored the pleas of her 3-year old who was locked outside until a neighbor found him.  The arrested mother claimed, “Marijuana should be legal anyways.”

In family courts, judges need to consider the extreme impairment that many marijuana users have – no matter how much they love their children. There should be requirements for drug testing, addiction treatment and follow-up which figure into custody orders.  Child Protective Services (CHS) and Departments of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are in difficult situations.

The simplest way to cut down child abuse/neglect is not to legalize marijuana, legitimize its use and call it harmless.  Our young people need better education about the harms of marijuana before they become parents.   We also need to provide plenty of ways to get addiction treatment for the parents who need it.

As a nation, we are turning a blind eye to the damage marijuana users may present to their children. We need to recognize the poor judgment and the warped sense of time that marijuana users have.  When marijuana use has been combined with fires and hot cars, children die.  See Child Abuse, Part 1 (neglect) and Part 2 (violence).

Harm Reduction vs. Legalization – The Myths and Politics

by Robert Weiner, originally published in the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly last October:  Last week, the Harm Reduction Coalition held its conference in Baltimore. Marijuana legalization is not one of its issues, which are mainly access to clean needles and syringes, overdose prevention with naloxone, HIV and hepatitis C, and the rights of drug users. Keynote speaker Michael Botticelli, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), supports naloxone and medication-assisted treatment. He is a clear harm reduction advocate, but not an advocate of marijuana legalization.

But harm reduction sometimes gets confused with marijuana legalization. I had the privilege of speaking to the “Politics” class at American University in nearby Washington, D.C. on October 20, a few days before the conference was to begin. I was invited to discuss the movement toward drug legalization. I also covered some “harm reduction” assertions as well.

Unfortunately, because the legalization movement is sweeping across America, my counterpoints were very well-received — I say “unfortunately” because we are being overcome by the tidal wave of the movement. Here is some of what I said to Assistant Professor Rick Semiatin’s “Washington Semester” class of juniors and seniors from 200 colleges and universities across the United States.

I’m a “liberal” on most things, but on the drug issue, I know the harm that is done by car crashes, DUIs, date rape and the impact of flooding already overcrowded emergency rooms — and that includes from marijuana, which most “legalizers” claim they want to separate from “harder” drugs. I was the one who wrote then-Congressman Ed Koch’s testimony on his bill in the 1970s to legalize marijuana, and sat with him at the table as he told Congress that drugs are personal and harmless, and that we should stop crowding our prisons. But both Ed and I learned and changed our positions, he as mayor of New York City and me as I learned more and more as spokesman for the House Narcotics Committee and then the White House ONDCP.

I told the students that the election is being overwhelmed by the issue because my own party, the Democrats, don’t want to touch it. They are afraid their candidates will lose a big chunk of the youth and liberal base who support legalization/decriminalization in the legislatures and state referenda. Like laetrile in the 1970s (which was legalized in more than 20 states and was supposed to cure cancer but turned out to be useless apricot pits that simply deferred real and needed treatment), “medical” marijuana is backed up only anecdotally and never is compared to an “n” of other treatment modalities that would be prescribed by doctors. There is truth to former drug czar Barry McCaffrey’s joke that a shot of gin also takes away your pain. Having said that, no one wants to deny a truly sick or dying patient who wants to get high the opportunity to feel better, even if it’s a placebo effect. It’s not the truly “medical” cases anyone wants to stop; it’s what law enforcement tells us are the 90+ % (and as many as 99 %) non-sick people who also come in to the clinics feigning illness with a makeshift letter just to get drugs.addiction equality

Harms of marijuana

The evidence on harm in the legalizing states is rolling in. You have to scrounge for the reports, but they say, “youth marijuana use increased by nearly 11 % since medical marijuana became legal in 2009,” “traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana have increased by 100 percent between 2007 and 2012” and “toxicology reports with positive marijuana results for driving under the influence have increased 16 % from 2011 to 2013.” In addition, Colorado Public Radio reported, “Denver Emergency Room Doctor Seeing More Patients for Marijuana Edibles.” The United Nations reported, “Marijuana-related Health Problems on Rise in US,” with a 12 % rise last year in marijuana usage by teens.

But for the most part, the legalization referenda are speeding ahead. The most-cited ones, in Oregon and D.C., show legalization 11 and 20 points up, respectively, with just days before the election, and the legalization advocates say they are counting on “young voter turnout.” Since Democrats count on that demographic as well, you can understand the silence.

Even though Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told me personally two weeks ago that “I’m concerned about legalization” because of car crashes, emergency room upticks, the horrible message to kids (how legalization disarms parents from the moral high ground on the message), and the like, politicians in the state are silent on the issue.

Of course, the legalizers say the drug war is a “failure.” But the students I addressed did open their eyes when I said that because of the efforts of parents, teachers, coaches and religious and business leaders, and a strong foreign policy (Plan Colombia) and domestic enforcement efforts, drug use has declined almost 50 % in the last three decades, and cocaine use — the disproportionate driver of crime — is down 70 %. If any other social problem, such as literacy, hunger or poverty, or health problem, such as cancer, diabetes and heart attacks, improved 50–70 %, would we call it a failure?DOJMarijuana

Drug Courts Work

To these quite smart college juniors and seniors, I pointed out that medically assisted treatment — including methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol — is in fact harm reduction. It’s valid because people can function, work and pay taxes. But if we’re talking about heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to addicts, that’s pure nonsense that destroys their lives. If we are talking about marijuana, I still oppose it because it jams hospital emergency rooms with car crashes and treatment centers with patients. Legalization or decriminalization would simply increase availability and use. When I debate the Ethan Nadelmanns of the world on radio or Bill Maher or Crossfire, they invariably say, “That’s true but…” I cut in and say, “You can’t say ‘but’ to more availability and use — that’s the point. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

I do concede we need to stop prison overcrowding but point out that’s why Attorney General Janet Reno and ONDCP Director McCaffrey supported creating drug courts, for treatment instead of prison for nonviolent drug offenders. There were eight drug courts when we started in 1996. Drug courts rose to 1,000 under Clinton-Reno-McCaffrey, and now are near 3,000.

Science, not politics, should guide U.S. drug policy.  Bob Weiner is former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the House Narcotics Committee and the House Government Operations Committee. He now heads up a public affairs and issues strategies group in Washington, D.C., Robert Weiner Associates, and is founder and president of Solutions for Change, a foundation supporting young journalists to write op-eds informing the public on issues in major newspapers. He can be contacted at weinerpublic@comcast.net