Rhode Island leads the nation in marijuana and illicit drugs use, says national survey

Rhode Island leads the nation in marijuana and illicit drugs use, says national survey

According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Rhode Islanders continue to use marijuana and illicit drugs at the highest rates in the nation. The findings, says a news report in the Providence Journal, were no surprise to local experts who have long seen the state at the top of numerous categories of the annual survey over the years. “Nevertheless they remain somewhat mystified about the causes,” the news article said. Another current survey by polling company Gallup found that Rhode Islanders rank second highest in the country in the use of all drugs – both illicit and legal prescriptions – just behind West Virginia and ahead of the number three state, Kentucky. Fourteen percent of Rhode Islanders age 12 and older reported using marijuana in the past month – up from 13 percent last year, and more than any other state.

This puts R.I. at twice the national average of 7.4 percent, the report said. Rhode Island was also tops in the nation for using marijuana in the previous year: 20 percent, up from 19 percent last year. Not surprisingly, there’s a powerful movement in the state to fast-track a legalize-marijuana bill that’s making its way through the legislature. Rhode Island already is one of 23 states and the District of Columbia that has legalized medical marijuana for licensed patients. The coalition behind full legalization, if successful, would make Rhode Island the fifth state to legalize marijuana. Meanwhile, said the report in the Providence Journal, Rhode Islanders “also led the nation in consuming illegal drugs, excluding marijuana. About 4.3 percent reported having taken them in the month before being surveyed.” Although the survey is “probably an accurate portrayal…we’ve seen trending for a long time, the ‘why’ is really hard to answer,” said Rebecca Boss, deputy director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. And Michael Rizzi, president and CEO of the substance-abuse treatment and prevention agency CODAC, said that regardless of why the state has such high level of drug use, relaxing marijuana laws and greater societal acceptance of the drug, should that happen, could make matters even worse. “The issue of prevention has always been something of importance,” Rizzi said. “Marijuana, for many people, seems to be an innocuous product, and with the relaxing of the laws in Rhode Island, it makes it easier for people to make a choice, one that includes thinking ‘at least I don’t have to worry about being arrested.’” The annual survey, conducted since 1971 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is based on interviews with randomly selected individuals. The survey doesn’t rank the states in the various categories of drug and alcohol use, but their relative standings can be deduced by examining the numbers.

State Healthcare’s Rebecca Boss said that her agency “pays attention to the survey results” and does take action as a result. For example, Rhode Island used to land at the top of the charts for underage drinking, which led to the introduction of state-wide initiatives to deal with it. As a result, the underage drinking statistics have declined. The state is now using a federal “Partnership for Success” grant to help address public perceptions of marijuana and other drugs. “If the perceived risk goes down, the use goes up,” she said. “We are trying to be proactive and get ahead of this. We think we have programs in place that may not have an immediate impact, but will in years to come.”

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