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As the Drug Policy Alliance reports, in 2016, Public Policy Polling revealed that a majority of residents in Washington, DC, believe that marijuana should not be criminalized. Rather, the majority thinks that this drug should be regulated and taxed. In fact, 63 percent of those polled believe that the legality of marijuana is a state issue, not a federal one.
As far as the federal government is concerned, marijuana is an illicit drug, and the creation, use, or distribution of the drug can lead to federal criminal sanctions. However, states have the right to determine the legal status of marijuana within their jurisdiction. The marijuana debate is a thorny one and casts up the many complexities in our federal system of state government; power is centralized but states maintain autonomy on a great number of issues.
It is critical to note that pro-marijuana legalization sentiments are not synonymous with being pro-drug use in general. Rather, many individuals, like governments, are trying to think of alternatives to punishment of drug use. In Portugal, for example, nearly all formerly illicit drugs have been legalized, and the country is often praised when evaluated by various metrics to gauge progress in addressing substance abuse.
The poll findings do not necessarily reflect a Washington, DC, public that is very liberal on drug policy, but rather a populous that is thinking about ways to prevent drug abuse and help those who are in need of treatment services, rather than incarcerating them. Further, many residents of Washington, DC, are firsthand witnesses to the negative impact of extensive drug abuse.
The poll went beyond asking residents of Washington, DC, about marijuana. It made the following findings:
Prevalence of Drug Abuse in Washington, DC
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has collected data on Washington, DC, drug abuse rates for 2009-2012. Some highlights of NIDA’s findings include:
As the Washington Examiner reports, as of 2011 in the District, 11.3 percent of residents in the 12-or-older age group abused or were dependent on alcohol or other drugs. This percentage is higher than the national average of 8.9 percent. This rate is also greater than that found in surrounding areas (Maryland at 8.1 percent and Virginia at 9.4 percent).
Opines the Washington Examiner, substance abuse rates are high in Washington, DC, because it is a high-stress area, there is widespread availability of drugs, pockets of society live in poverty, and it is challenging to get people into treatment. Regarding under-treatment for substance abuse, one survey found that 8.6 percent of residents in the 12-or-older age group needed drug recovery services but only 3.3 percent went into treatment. According to Peter Delany, the director of the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), many individuals do not get drug treatment because they do not realize they need it, they believe they can’t afford it, or they don’t have enough information about the process, among other reasons.
The Washington Examiner notes that there may be a psychological barrier to treatment among some of the high-performing and well-paid individuals in coveted jobs. An individual experiencing substance abuse may resist treatment for a host of reasons, including fear of job loss. Family members may struggle to reconcile the individual’s “success” in life with the drug abuse. Although no two stories of addiction are the same, it is clear that drug abuse is a great equalizer – rich or poor, employed or not, anyone who is experiencing substance abuse can find help and start the recovery process today.
Drug Overdose Rates in the District
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, there were 96 drug overdose deaths in Washington, DC. This number showed a decrease compared to 2103, when there 102 drug overdose deaths. The Washington City Paper reported that in 2013 at least 60 people died in Washington, DC, as a result of using morphine, methadone, or heroin.
The Chief Medical Examiner’s annual report does not include data on fatalities that result from prescription opioids (e.g. Valium, Klonopin, Xanax, etc.) so it was not possible to accurately determine the number of deaths related to these drugs based on a review of death certificates. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted an exhaustive nationwide survey and found that, in 2014, there were 28,647 deaths due to prescription opioid or heroin use. In 2014, across the nation, there were more drug-involved deaths than ever before in recorded history. Abuse of prescription opioids is a main contributor to these record-setting rates.
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Help for Drug Abuse in Washington, DC
Drug treatment services are provided in a host of different settings, all of which can be accessed for information on the recovery process. Such settings include private rehab centers, public rehab centers, hospitals, detoxification centers, halfway houses (in some areas), doctors’ offices (typically limited to opioid replacement therapy maintenance), and methadone facilities. No two people follow the exact same path to a recovery service provider. In some instances, a person may research and call around to different places, trying to piece together the needed information to get admitted to a rehab service center. In other instances, a person may go directly to a rehab center that offers a full continuum of care (medical detoxification, primary treatment for addiction, and aftercare services). Rehab centers are staffed with intake counselors who can help a person get started on the admission and treatment process. Many professionals and services are available to guide and support the addiction recovery process; it’s often just a matter of finding them.
There are numerous services on the public, private, and nonprofit level in Washington, DC, to get the recovery process started. The following is a short selection of organizational service providers that can help with different facets of the drug recovery process:
Washington, DC, being the capital of the United States, has the opportunity to play a prominent role in raising awareness on substance abuse. In 2015, the District was the venue for the Unite to Face Addiction event, which featured performances from Steven Tyler and Sheryl Crow. The event’s mission was to draw attention to the 22 million Americans who are experiencing drug abuse and to the many more who are affected by it. This event and others like give a voice to this drug epidemic.
Although facts and statistics are illuminating, drug awareness events and story-sharing provide a means of personal and public expression of the many complex emotions and thoughts that surround substance abuse. Rallies, be they in the District or elsewhere, help in the effort to stem the rising tide of drug abuse; they help prevent people from initiating into drugs, educate the public on different facets of drug abuse, and can encourage those in need of recovery to seek help. It’s apparent that although the US is experiencing a substance abuse epidemic, there is widespread support for recovery.