Pubdate: Tue, 08 Jun 2004
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: David Hench, Staff Writer
Cited: Office of National Drug Control Policy ( )
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


The Nation's Drug Chief Speaks Out Against Legalizing Drugs And The Medical 
Use Of Marijuana.

Portland -- States must treat substance abuse like a disease, expand access 
to treatment and prevent its spread among young people, the nation's drug 
czar told substance abuse officials in Portland on Monday.      "Playing 
with drugs when you're young is a disease, not a matter of individual 
choice," John Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, said in an 
address to the annual meeting of the National Association of State Alcohol 
and Drug Abuse Directors. Walters said the federal government will try to 
extend drug treatment to the roughly 100,000 people nationally who do not 
have access now.

At the same time, the Bush administration wants to intervene in the cycle 
of experimentation and casual drug use by which many young people become 
drug dependent, Walters said. The administration favors random drug testing 
in schools as a way to help young people steer clear of drugs saying such 
efforts have worked in private industry, he said.      Maine officials 
oppose random drug testing for all students, believing it impinges on the 
civil rights of students who are required to attend school.

No Maine public schools test all students, though some have random drug 
testing for students involved in extracurricular activities, said Kim 
Johnson, director of Maine's Office of Substance Abuse, which is hosting 
this week's national conference.

Maine treatment professionals hope the state will be selected to share in a 
new federal grant to expand drug treatment options.      Walters said the 
government is putting up $100 million for a grant program that would allow 
people with drug dependency in selected states to get vouchers to pay for 

The plan, which he hopes can double to $200 million next year, should help 
expand drug and alcohol treatment options by coaxing clinics and doctors to 
begin offering substance abuse services.

Maine has applied for $6 million in the first year to help obtain services 
for the 100 people a month who seek treatment but are turned away. The 
government will be awarding grants of up to $15 million.      Maine's drug 
problems are unusual compared to many states.

The state was one of the first to experience a surge in the addiction to 
prescription opiates such as OxyContin. In 2003, 1,623 people were admitted 
to drug treatment for marijuana dependence, 1,007 for heroin dependence and 
1,500 for dependence on other opiates, including prescription drugs.

Walters was sharply critical of efforts to legalize drugs and asked the 
substance abuse officials to help oppose such efforts. "Neighborhoods, 
states and communities are better when we push back on this problem," he 
said. Treating marijuana like a "soft" drug ignores the fact that most pot 
is much more powerful today than it was in the 1970s, he said, and that 
twice as many people seek treatment for marijuana abuse as for cocaine.

Walters also criticized the medical use of marijuana, which is legal in 
Maine. Just because terminally ill patients and others feel better does not 
mean the practice has undergone the rigorous scrutiny necessary to qualify 
as a medical treatment, he said.      "Feeling better is the standard of 
snake oil, not medicine," he said.      Walters did praise the prescription 
monitoring program in Maine, one of 21 states that have electronic tracking 
of prescriptions to make sure patients are not visiting multiple doctors 
for extra pain medication or forging prescriptions.

Walters said his office plans to launch an ad campaign in the coming months 
to encourage peers and others to intervene if someone they know is using drugs.

He also expects success in the near future in cracking down on Internet 
sales of drugs.
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