Tuesday, July 20, 2004
U.S. drug czar warns of potent pot here
The potency of the marijuana grown locally and in British Columbia has attracted the attention of the White House and its drug czar.
"This is not the substance you joked about in the '60s," said John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "We have a greater reason for concern."
Walters visited Seattle yesterday to raise awareness of increased levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, an ingredient in marijuana that produces a high. And he met with officials from a new state program at Harborview Medical Center designed to counsel emergency room patients who abuse drugs.
"You have more of it here, and it's more powerful," he said. "The production of 'BC Bud' has exploded."
"BC Bud" is a potent form of marijuana smuggled in from Canada.
According to data from the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network, the mention of marijuana as a reason for an emergency room visit increased nearly 200 percent from 1994 to 2002. Walters used the data to try to dispel the idea of marijuana as a harmless drug.
"We know cigarettes kill more people than any illegal drug. This is not about if you die from a particular overdose -- it's about addiction."
But officials at Harborview, the region's major trauma center, are less worried about marijuana addiction than they are about all drug and alcohol abuse.
"If we could just stop people hurting themselves while drinking, it would make a huge difference," said Dr. Michael Copass, director of emergency services at Harborview. "On some days, (the proportion of people who have abused alcohol or drugs make up) better than three-fourths of the visits."
Edward Dwyer-O'Connor, manager of the crisis triage unit at Harborview, said that any drug that hinders a person's ability to react increases the chance of getting hurt and making a trip to the emergency room.
The program he helps run, Washington State's Screening Brief Intervention Referral and Treatment, counsels patients about drug or alcohol abuse to prevent future visits to the emergency room.
"There is a brief window of opportunity especially when they are in the emergency room when people are more open to exploring the possibility that they have a problem that they need to deal with," he said.
Dwyer-O'Connor and Walters said education before a person becomes addicted is one of the best ways to prevent further abuse and injury.