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Marijuana Myths, Claim No. 10

CLAIM #10:

MARIJUANA-RELATED MEDICAL EMERGENCIES ARE INCREASING

As evidence of its harmful effects, prohibition advocates point to dramatic increases in emergency room episodes related to marijuana ingestion.

THE FACTS

Data gathered by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) show a recent increase in "marijuana mentions" by people seeking treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Using a one-page form, emergency-room personnel record "drug abuse episodes," note the presence or absence of alcohol as a contributing factor, and list up to four other drugs recently consumed by the patient.

Although DAWN began compiling data in the 1970s, recent changes in recording procedures, the hospital selection, and methods of statistical estimation prevent comparisons of data gathered prior to 1988 with those gathered recently. Thus, discussion of emergency-room trends is limited to the years 1988 to 1993. 67

The lowest number of marijuana-mentions, recorded in 1990, was 15,706 (7.1 mentions per 100,000 population). The highest was 29,166 (12.7 per 100,000 population), recorded in 1993.

Using these figures, an increase of 86% has been reported. However, if 1988 is used as the "base year" instead - a year in which there were 19,962 marijuana mentions - the increase is reduced immediately by more than half, to 42%.
Despite marijuana being the most frequently used illicit drug, in emergency rooms, it remains the least often mentioned illicit drug.
In 1993, marijuana accounted for 6.25% of mentions, compared to 15.3% for cocaine and 9.8% for heroin. Even over-the-counter pain medications were mentioned more often than marijuana - comprising 9% of the total.

For youth aged six to 17, there were more mentions of marijuana than of heroin and cocaine - not because marijuana is more harmful to them but because these latter drugs are used so infrequently by young people. In this age group, mentions of over-the-counter pain medications were substantially higher than those for marijuana. While marijuana accounted for 6.48% of drug mentions by youth, over-the-counter pain medications accounted for 47%.

For the total population, not only is marijuana mentioned less frequently than other recreational drugs, it is seldom mentioned alone. In 1992, in more than 80% of the drug-abuse episodes involving marijuana, at least one other drug was mentioned; and, in more than 40%, two or more additional drugs were mentioned.
Of 24,000 marijuana mentions in 1992, more than 13,000 involved alcohol and nearly 10,000 involved cocaine.
Despite recent increases in marijuana mentions, hospital emergency rooms are not flooded with marijuana users seeking medical attention. In 1992, of 433,493 total drug mentions, only 4,464 - about 1% - involved the use of marijuana alone.

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