Substance Abuse News Articles
Author: By John Donnelly, Globe Staff
Date: 09/01/2000 Page: A1 Section: Metro/Region

WASHINGTON - Massachusetts residents in every age group had among the highest levels of illegal drug use last year, making it the only state to show such an across-the-board pattern, according to a first-ever state-by-state survey of drug abuse released yesterday. Dealing an embarrassing blow to state officials - and perhaps silencing those who believed that drugs were not a problem in their backyard - the report's estimates revealed several glaring problems in Massachusetts. The state had the highest percentage in the nation in several categories: 12- to 17-year-olds addicted to illegal drugs as well as alcohol; 18- to 25-year-olds using marijuana in the past month; 18- to 25-year-olds using any illicit drugs in the past month; and 26 years of age or older taking any illegal drug other than marijuana. It was based on surveys taken throughout 1999. Statisticians who oversaw the study cautioned that the states' numbers were often so close that it was more accurate to look at groupings of fifths to discern trends. Even if the rankings were discarded, however, Massachusetts was still spotlighted as a center of drug use and excessive drinking. In earlier regional studies of drug use, the Northeast and the West have consistently led the nation as centers of drug commerce because their urban areas offered higher numbers of users and each had multiple points of entry for traffickers. The benefit of the state-by-state survey was to zero in on each region's zones of trouble. "The time has come to hold states accountable for drug policy. If drug policy nationally is going to succeed, it's going to require the strong participation of state and local government," said John T. Carnevale, a drug policy consultant who recently left a senior position in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Carnevale said the study provides valuable baseline data for states, but he added that "the issue is not where you are, but what you are going to do about it." The findings, contained in a nationwide household survey of drug abuse, are sure to spark new discussion about how Massachusetts and the rest of New England should tackle drug abuse. Many will advocate more money for treatment; others will argue for reforms in the judicial system. "We have the evidence of high use, but we also have the evidence that treatment works, and so it seems to me that we need to have more treatment available to people," said Brian J. Sylvester, southeast regional manager for the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. In addition to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont showed high rates of binge drinking among 18- to 25-year olds; and New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut landed in the top fifth of young people using any illicit drugs in the past month. And every New England state was in the highest ranks of marijuana use among 18- to 25-year-olds. The Massachusetts numbers were "disappointing, but it doesn't shock me," said Thomas W. Clark, research associate at Health and Addictions Research, a nonprofit group that conducts drug-use research for Massachusetts. "There are some hypotheses, such as maybe we have more liberal attitudes about substance abuse, but we don't have the protection that the South does with its religious influence, where religion is showed to be more of a protective factor" against drug use. Roseanne Pawelec, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said another factor may be the "plethora of colleges here that other states do not have. Kids are coming from across the country, putting us at somewhat of a disadvantage." The study also examined cigarette use, and Massachusetts was ranked in the middle of the states for ages 12 to 25, and lower than most states for those 26 and older. Massachusetts has conducted one of the most aggressive anti-tobacco campaigns in the nation. The numbers do not reveal whether the rate of drug and alcohol use in Massachusetts is going up or down, or the rates of drug use involving heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, steroids, or psychedelic drugs. A statewide study released in June showed a stabilization of drug use with the exception of a sharp increase in reports of ecstasy use. It also reported that heroin has surpassed cocaine as the street drug of choice, and the use of crack cocaine continues to decline. And it showed that by a large margin, alcohol remained the most abused drug for those seeking treatment in state-funded programs, as 60 percent said they drank in the month before seeking help. Thirty-four percent admitted using heroin and 29 percent said they used powder or crack cocaine. The national survey released yesterday was conducted door to door, and for the first time with the use of laptops equipped with headphones. Respondents privately listened to questions and then entered answers into the computer. About 67,000 people nationwide participated in the study. In Massachusetts, between 700 and 1,000 people were surveyed. The respondents were chosen after statisticians broke down the state into 12 regions and then picked a specific number from each area. "The people were spread all through Massachusetts. It's representative," said Douglas A. Wright, a mathematical statistican for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Wright said the methodology was peer-reviewed by private statisticians. Carnevale, the drug policy consultant, said the national survey was far superior than past household surveys. Still, Massachusetts had one of the lowest response rates to the survey in the country. About 62 percent of those questioned at their door agreed to be interviewed; Connecticut had the lowest rate with about 59 percent responding, while the highest was Mississippi with 82 percent. Clark, the Massachusetts drug researcher, also cautioned that the numbers of respondents were relatively small, compared to his organization's studies that typically include 3,000 to 4,000 people. But he and other drug policy analysts in Massachusetts didn't dispute the finding that drug use in the state was among the highest in the nation. One drug study now being finalized appears to show that "Massachusetts has done better than the nation in terms of trends of drug use going down, but overall the rates are still on the higher end," Clark said. Nationally, drug use declined for the second straight year among teens to 9 percent from 9.9 percent last year, although it was not a statistically significant drop. Donna E. Shalala, Department of Health and Human Services secretary, and Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, trumpeted the decline in drug use from a 1997 high of 11.4 percent. Still, the number of youths taking illegal drugs today is statistically similiar to 1996, the year that McCaffrey took over his position and the year that he uses as the internal benchmark to judge his office's performance. Also, the two Cabinet members noted, illegal drug use among all ages remained about the same last year from the year before.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: By Raja Mishra and Richard Saltus, Globe Staff
Date: 09/02/2000 Page: A1 Section: Metro/Region

Blame it on the liberals. Or the New Agers. Or the college kids. Or New York drug runners. Perhaps it's the pressures of the dot-com economy. Or rampant materialism. Or lenient state laws. A day after a national report found that Massachusetts ranks near the top in drug use in almost every age group, local drug abuse experts and politicians are seeking answers. Theories have been floated and fingers pointed, but the only point of consensus is that tougher, more abundant drug treatment is needed in the state. In two dozen interviews, the complexity of the illicit drug issue - its myriad causes and potential solutions - became apparent. There is the supply side: Massachusetts is on the East Coast, where most drugs enter the country, and near New York, home to major drug networks. There is the demand side: money is abundant and life's pressures are greater for many. And there are the intangibles: Massachusetts' tolerant reputation and the licentious bent of its many campuses. "Pinpointing the exact factors - that ain't easy. But the bottom line is that we need to do more prevention and treatment," said Tom Clark, research associate at Health and Addictions Research Inc., a social policy think tank in Boston. The survey, by the US Department of Health and Human Services, found that the Commonwealth ranked No. 1 in several categories: 12- to 17-year-olds addicted to illegal drugs and alcohol; 18- to 25-year-olds who smoked marijuana in the past month; 18- to 25-year-olds using any illicit drugs in the past month; and those 26 and older using illegal drugs other than marijuana. Overall, drug and alcohol use is down sharply nationwide over a 20-year period, the study found, precipitously falling between 1979 and 1990, then leveling off. But it was the first study of its kind to compare states, putting Massachusetts in a disconcerting and troubling light. Governor Paul Cellucci yesterday drew attention to the MassCall program he recently launched, which will provide 24 communities with $7.5 million over three years to study and combat illegal drug use. But Dr. David Gastfriend, director of addiction services at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard psychiatry professor, said the state's substance abuse problem doesn't invite an easy solution. He suggested the cyber-fueled economy in Greater Boston might be to blame. "I have stockbrokers, venture capital folks, and dot-com developers coming for treatment," he said. "It's not just a good economy, it's a weird economy. It's a very hard-working, long-hour, highly competitive type of prosperity." "And that pressure is being felt by college students and high school students," he added. Speaking from a socioeconomic world away, Andy Ward, director of the South Boston Collaborative, which helps poor addicts, said he has noticed an uptick of heroin abuse among his patients. "Heroin has become such an easy drug to get. So you're getting younger kids addicted to it," he said. Boston is at the end of a fast-moving heroin pipeline that originates in New York City and runs through Providence, noted several drug abuse researchers. Massachusetts, therefore, has greater access to heroin and most other drugs than Oklahoma, for example. "The availability on the East Coast is simply greater because of supply routes," said Clark. But the climate in Oklahoma is more conservative and less tolerant of experimentation, said a drug counselor who moved here from the Heartland state only three weeks ago. "Oklahoma is in the Bible Belt. Everyone in Oklahoma goes to church on Sunday. I haven't got the sense that people here take the time out for that," said Marie Cecchini, assistant director for Boston Narconon, a drug prevention and rehabilitation program. "There's much more peer pressure here. The expectation here is to have a nice car, a nice job. You didn't have that as much in Oklahoma," she said. Cecchini complained about the indirect, New Age nature of many of the drug treatment programs here. "I think only a very few of the programs here deal with basic education - what a drug is and what it does to your body," she said. "They can do all these stress workshops and whatever but that belongs in stress management class, not drug prevention." This weekend, thousands of college students will move into the city and surrounding communities, and some drug specialists blame their numbers and experimental ways for spiking up local drug statistics. "We have these people from Idaho and New Jersey and Nebraska who are counted in Massachusetts," said Paul Jacobsen, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Public Health. Finally, some people interviewed raised the notion that the Commonwealth simply has a more liberal atmosphere, radiating out from Harvard Square, that is relatively tolerant of drug experimentation. And this might be reflected in lighter punishments for drug use, they speculated. "Maybe the state is more forgiving in its penalties. I mean, how hard do you come down on kids who try drugs once?" said Matthew Leahy, vice president of laboratory operations for Secon, a drug screening company that does testing for state prisons and workplaces. "You can only do so much to lower drug use." © Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company