wod-lies.essays

	The Hartford Courant

	"Untruths, unreliable data create obstacles in war on drugs."

It is a stark message designed to persuade youths to stay away from
marijuana.

And it is a lie.

The narrator tells television viewers they are watching the brain waves
of a normal 14-year-old.  As he speaks, squiggly lines with high peaks
show an obviously active brain.

The picture changes:  The lines flatten.  These, the narrator says, are
the brain waves of a 14-year-old on marijuana.

The problem with this national television advertisement is that the
flatter "brain waves" are not those of a teenager on dope; they are not
brain waves at all.  The electroencephalograph was not hooked up to
anyone.

It is not just brain waves that are being manipulated in the war
against drugs.  Truth has been a casualty in other areas as well.

For example:

  A study cited by presidents and business leaders to demonstrate the
  effect of drug use on worker productivity has no scientific validity
  according to the organization that conducted it.

  No one has been able to produce another widely quoted study that
  purportedly showed drug users cost companies more in worker's
  compensation claims and medical benefits.

  A third study, used to show that marijuana could cause long-term
  impairment, was improperly conducted and reached conclusions no other
  study has been able to duplicated, according to one of its authors.

[article goes on to say that drugs are bad but that lying about it
destroys the credibility of the anti-drug crusade.]

"Part of the problem we have as drug educators today is that kids don't
believe us," said Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an associate professor of
psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School who has researched the effects
of marijuana.

"They've been told for so long that marijuana is very bad for them and
then they go off to college and see a brilliant English major that
smokes dope and nothing's happened to his or her brain or heart.  Then
they use it themselves and discover it's the least harmful illegal
drug.  So they say that maybe they've been lied to about cocaine or
PCP, too."

But such questions are not the foremost concern of the organization
that created the brain-wave advertisement.  The Partnership for a
Drug-Free America wants, above all else, to prevent people from using
drugs.

Theresa Grant, public information director for the nonprofit
organization, said she doesn't see any problem with the ad.

"The marijuana brain-wave commercial was one of the ads that we used as
a fact, rather than a fear-inducing ad," Grant said.  later, she
acknowledged: "It was a simulation.  They manipulated the machine.  It
was not attached to any person.  It was not scientific.  At the time we
created it in 1987, we were told that it was an appropriate
representation," by the government's National Institute on Drug Abuse.

...  She emphasized that the partnership has not conceded that the
brain-wave representation was inaccurate ...

"It's a flat lie," said Grinspoon.  "Marijuana has no clinically
significant effect on the electroencephalograph." ...

Citing a Harvard Medical School study, he said, "Nobody has been able
to demonstrate one iota of brain damage from smoking marijuana."

	Social 'Studies'

Last year President Bush declared that "drug abuse among American
workers costs businesses anywhere from $60 billion to $100 billion a
year in lost productivity, absenteeism, drug-related accidents, medical
claims and theft."

Where did he get those number?

Bush, and President Reagan before him, have based their comments about
drugs and productivity on a study conducted by the Research Triangle
Institute, a nonprofit research organization near Raleigh, N.C.,
according to Henrick J.  Harwood, who led the study and now is senior
policy analyst in the White House drug policy office. ...

"It was an inexpensive study done with inadequate data," said Reid
Maness, senior manager of communications for Research Triangle
Institute.  "Unfortunately, there hasn't been attempt since then to do
anything better.  This still remains the most recent and best study of
its type.

"When we see people being critical about it, we don't get too upset.
RTI would agree that the study does not have a lot of precision.  We
never claimed that it did," Maness said.

The study concluded:

  o People who had *ever* been heavy marijuana users cost the nation
    $34.2 billion in diminished worker productivity in 1980.

  o Adding the costs of drug-related health problems, crime and
    accidents -- figures that exist only in very rough estimates -- the
    study concluded that all drug abuse, excluding alcohol, cost the
    country $47 billion in 1980.

How did the institute come up with its figures?

Using statistics from a 1982 household survey by the National Institute
on Drug Abuse, the institute compared the average income for households
in which one person admitted to having every used marijuana daily to
the average for households in which no one admitted to having ever used
marijuana daily.

Households with former heavy smokers of marijuana had an average income
27.9 percent lower than similar households in which marijuana had not
been used heavily, the institute said.

The study concluded that, when the figures were extrapolated to the
general population, marijuana abuse caused an estimated loss in income
of $34.2 billion in 1980.  In turn, the researchers equated the reduced
income with reduced productivity.  ...

"The study is worthless," said Dr. John P. Morgan, medical professor
and head of the pharmacology department at the City University of New
York Medical School.  "It is obviously absurd.  It has to do with the
fact that NIDA is functioning chiefly as a minister of propaganda in
the war on drugs."

The study did not prove any relationship between marijuana use and
reduced household income.  Despite its conclusion that "The
[productivity] loss due to marijuana abuse was estimated at $34.2
billion for 1980," the study elsewhere notes that the reduced income
was not necessarily a result of marijuana use.

Even if it were, income does not equal productivity.

In an article in the University of Kansas Law Review, Morgan write that
if income were the same as productivity, then "a judge is less
productive than a practicing lawyer, a medical school professor is less
productive than a practicing physician, a farmer is less productive
than a florist and an elementary school teacher is less productive than
an owner of a daycare center."

The study arrived at one particularly curious conclusion:

People who were *currently* abusing any illegal drug cost the nation
nothing in diminished worker productivity

A 34-year-old who told researchers in 1982 that he had smoked marijuana
every day during the summer of 1966 and had not touched an illegal drug
since would be classified as a worker whose productivity was
significantly diminished by drug use.

But the classification for diminished productivity applied only when
someone *quit* smoking marijuana, not if someone continued to use
marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

Harwood acknowledged this.

"We looked at current drug users vs. others and found no significant
difference [in productivity] between current users and never-users," he
said.

	The study that wasn't.

Shocking anti-drug statistics seem always to make headlines, regardless
of what they are based upon.

In 1983, Dr. Sidney Cohen, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA,
wrote in the Drug Abuse and Alcoholism Newsletter that drug users were
five times as likely to file workers' compensation claims and that they
received three times the average level of benefits for illness.

His source was a study purportedly done by the Firestone Tire and
Rubber Co.  Many other drug fighters, particularly people in favor of
widespread drug testing of employees, have quoted either the Firestone
study or the newsletter edited by Cohen, who has since died.

In fact, there appears to have been no such study.

"About three people have asked me for that study," said the Firestone
medical director, Dr. E. Gates Morgan.  "I'm unaware of it.  We had an
[employee assistance program] man with us, but left the company in 1983
and died in 1987.  I've looked all over for the stuff he wrote, but we
don't have any copies of it at all."  ...

	A life of their own

Other widely quoted studies have even larger margins of error -- but
you wouldn't know that by listening to the people who quote them.

"Marijuana does not wear off in a couple of hours," said Rosanna
Creighton, president of the nonpartisan lobbying group "Citizens for a
Drug-free Oregon."

"The pleasure high is gone, but the effect it has ... on motor skills,
eye-to-hand coordination, peripheral vision ... is not gone.  A
Stanford University study showed that 24 hours after smoking marijuana,
the ability of airplane pilots was impaired."

Creighton was referring to a 1985 study paid for by the National
Institute on Drug Abuse and the Veterans Administration Medical
Research Service.  It has been used to show that even casual marijuana
use is dangerous -- despite many government studies that have concluded
the opposite.  ...

The study said that although the pilots were unaware they were
impaired, their marijuana-induced errors could easily lead to airplane
crashes.

But a co-author of the study is not confident of those findings.

"The results of the study were suggestive, non conclusive," said Dr.
Von Otto Leirer, an experimental psychologist.  "We didn't have the
appropriate controls for the experiment.  That was a real serious
problem."

Leirer said a follow-up study, using the proper controls and methods,
was conducted.  That study was published in December, but attracted
little notice.
...

In the past 20 years, studies have shown marijuana to cause brain
damage, paranoia, early senility, heart malfunction and sexual
problems, Grinspoon said.  In every case, he said, follow-up studies
failed to confirm that marijuana caused any of those problems.