Drug Detox Still Desperately Needed Despite Encouraging Survey

Drug Detox Still Desperately Needed Despite Encouraging Survey

The headline on last week's press release from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) proudly trumpeted "Youth Drug Use At A Five Year Low, New Survey Shows" with a sub-heading announcing "25 Percent Drop in Marijuana Use by Teen Boys." But a closer look at all the statistics reveals a darker and more complex picture of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction in this country. Clearly this is not the time to become complacent about providing widely available alcohol and drug detox rehab facilities.

While it appears that illicit drug use among teens aged 12 to 17 was either flat or declining slightly over the past few years, it is sobering to see that 9.8 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 are currently illicit drug users: 6.7 percent are smoking marijuana, 3.3 percent are popping addictive prescription drugs, 1.3 percent are breathing dangerous inhalants, 0.7 percent are using mind-altering hallucinogens, and 0.4 percent are snorting or shooting cocaine. In case you think these percentages are insignificant, they represent nearly 2.5 million adolescents who are potentially headed for drug detox and rehab.

Moving on to the whole population, the figures are even worse. A huge number of Americans - 22.6 million people or 9.6 percent of everyone in the country 12 or older - were in the grip of drug and alcohol abuse last year - a 600,000 increase from 22.0 million five years ago. For some reason, the ONDCP research report describes this increase as "no change", but 22.0 million and 22.6 million are not the same number. That's 600,000 more alcohol and drug addicts needing alcohol and drug detox and rehab to begin to reclaim their lives. Of the 22.6 million people dependent on some form of addictive substance, alcohol tops the list at 15.6 million people. Another 3.8 million are in the grip of illicit drugs, and 3.2 million are in trouble with both alcohol and illicit drugs. If all of these people woke up tomorrow morning and decided ask for alcohol and drug detox, there would be a lot of apologizing and hand-wringing and anguish telling everyone to hang tough and come back next week or next month or whenever.

We simply do not have the facilities in this country to provide drug detox and rehab for everyone who needs it. We don't even have the resources to even try to convince everyone who needs it that they need it. The only way we are ever going to handle such a tragic situation is to view it as a national disaster, like an earthquake, a flood or a hurricane. When we see some encouraging statistics like those issued last week, we must not relax, not even for a second. The only real difference between the destruction caused by Katrina and the destruction caused by addiction of 22.6 million American lives is one of scale - drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is an even greater catastrophe in terms of the number of lives affected. And it's happening every day in towns, cities and villages all across the country. Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is also costing the nation at least $300 billion a year, according to federal estimates.

That is far more than what it would cost to mobilize enough resources to provide the people, materials, alcohol and drug detox programs and the rehab needed to help end this national disaster called substance abuse.

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