Alexander DeLuca, M.D.
       Addiction, Pain, & Public Health website  
    
[Home] [Library]  [Slides]  [Search]  [Medline]  [Links]
Statement of Purpose; Privacy policy; Statement of Ownership; Statement of Sponsorship; Advertising policy 

Banging the drums of the War on Drugs:
SAMHSA's misleading interpretation of the 2001 DAWN Survey

by Alexander DeLuca, M.D., FASAM -- Written and originally posted on January 24, 2003

[Link to this article formatted for printing]


On 8/21/2002 SAMHSA released a News Release entitled: “Marijuana, Cocaine Emergency Department Visits Up - SAMHSA Releases 2001 DAWN Survey “ which is obtainable at: http://www.samhsa.gov/news/newsreleases/020821nr_dawn2001.htm. The complete report is available at: http://www.DrugAbuseStatistics.samhsa.gov.


 

In this document, SAMHSA makes statistically unjustifiable and misleading leaps from “emergency room mentions” to causality. For example, paragraph three discusses marijuana mentions:

  •  “”Marijuana mentions increased 15 percent from 96,426 to 110,512 between 2000 and 2001 and were concentrated in patients aged 12-34. Increases for marijuana were reported in Minneapolis, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore. Decreases were recorded only in New Orleans.“”

Then, in paragraph five:

  • “”Marijuana-related medical emergencies are increasing at an alarming rate, exceeding even those for heroin. This report helps dispel the pervasive myth that marijuana is harmless," said White House Drug Czar John Walters."”

In fact, the data does not support Mr. Walters' overtly misleading interpretation in which he equates the mere mention of marijuana in the emergency room record with marijuana being the cause of the emergency room visit, and the further equation of an emergency room visit with an emergency.


The mention of marijuana in the course of an emergency room visit is not the same thing as a “marijuana-related medical emergency,” nor does every emergency room visit represent a “medical emergency” And if the marijuana mentioned was in fact incidental to the real cause of the visit, then Mr. Thompson's conclusions regarding the cost to society of marijuana use are just so much misleading and unscientific blather.


[Top]
 

The most egregious example of the purposeful misinterpretation of the DAWN Survey statistics by SAMHSA is the 14th paragraph of the News Release:

  • “”DAWN estimates that 43 percent of the 1.1 million emergency department drug-mentions in 2001 were primarily the nonmedical use of legal prescription or non-prescription medications. There were 220,289 mentions of psychotherapeutic agents (19 percent) and 210,685 mentions of central nervous system agents (18 percent).””

It is very difficult to understand exactly how it was determined that “...43 percent ... of the drug-mentions in 2001 were primarily the non-medical use of legal prescription or non-prescription medications.” No explanation of the methodology employed to support such an interpretation is offered, nor is name of the DAWN (scientist?) responsible for making this statistical leap given.


So, what bogus and inflaming conclusions and policy decisions flow from this report which is discussed by SAMHSA as if it were scientifically and statistically valid?

  • "This report shows one more cost of drug abuse to our society, we must continue to strengthen our prevention programs and build substance abuse treatment capacity so that people don't abuse drugs and end up in costly emergency departments, taking resources away from other urgent care needs." Tommy Thompson, paragraph four.

  • "Marijuana-related medical emergencies are increasing at an alarming rate, exceeding even those for heroin. This report helps dispel the pervasive myth that marijuana is harmless." John Walters, paragraph five.

  • "In reality, marijuana is a dangerous drug, and adults and youth alike should be aware of the serious consequences that can come from smoking it.” John Walters, paragraph five.

          

 

Dr. DeLuca's Addiction, Pain, and Public Health Website

Alexander DeLuca, M.D., FASAM.

[Top of Page]

Originally posted:  1/24/2003

All website Email to:
adeluca@doctordeluca.com
 

Statement of Purpose; Privacy policy; Statements of Confidentiality, Ownership, & Sponsorship; Advertising polic

Most recently revised: 1/26/2003
Copyright © 2003 All rights reserved.