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Patricia Smith: Jumping to conclusions

Sixty-two children die from marijuana! Did you miss that headline? Me, too.

However, one would come away with that conclusion after reading Thomas Elias’ “California Focus” in The Union (Aug. 12) “Marijuana harm ignored in push for legalization.”

Elias repeated some outrageous conclusions that he acknowledged came from an opinion piece in the AZ Central written by Yauapi County Attorney Sheila Polk (who is also vice-chair of Arizona for Responsible Drug Policy).

Polk’s claims that 62 children died from using marijuana were based on statistics contained in a report issued by the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program.

Recent studies, as the Washington Post reported in February, have found that alcohol is 114 percent more dangerous than marijuana, yet drug warriors continue to focus their attention of the substance that causes the least harm.

Overall, the teams studied 811 child fatalities from 2013. Sixteen percent of the deaths were from “natural” causes like cancer. Another 7 percent of deaths were from an undetermined cause.

Accidents were responsible for about 50 percent of the deaths. Officials found only 38 percent were “preventable.”

The Arizona Department of Public Health acknowledges that marijuana was associated with 62 deaths, but disputes Polk’s conclusions that marijuana caused the deaths of any children.

Holly Ward, a spokeswoman for the agency, confirmed that the DHS has no evidence that marijuana caused any death in Arizona (to either children or adults).

“Associated with” and “causing” are world’s apart according to this explanation of how the study determined whether a substance was associated with a death: “Although substance use is a known risk factor in child fatalities, it is important to remember the term ‘associated’ is used because it is not always clear if or how the substance use had a direct or contributing effect on the fatality incident.

“The CFR program defines substance use as associated with a child’s death if the child, the child’s parent, caretaker and/or if the person responsible for the death, during or about the time of the incident leading to the death, used or abused substances, including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and/or alcohol.”

The disclaimer states “more than one substance may have been associated with a single death” so if a teenager died from ingesting too much meth or alcohol, yet also had THC in his blood, that would count in the study as a marijuana-associated death as well as a meth or alcohol-related death.

(Marijuana does not have a lethal dose rating because overdosing is impossible.)

Also, if a parent had a fatal accident while driving under the influence of alcohol and subsequently tested positive for marijuana, it would count as both an alcohol and marijuana-related death, even if marijuana was last used weeks before the accident.

Reports of lower IQs, brain abnormalities, and cognitive decline have been rejected after closer scrutiny of the research analysis found the methodology flawed and the causal inference drawn from the results premature, as show in a 2014 Washington Post report (link available with this story at TheUnion.com).

Any harm from marijuana has been greatly magnified — even falsified — in an effort to demonize a plant that DEA Judge Francis Young found “one of the least harmful substances on the face of the earth.”

Recent studies, as the Washington Post reported in February, have found that alcohol is 114 percent more dangerous than marijuana, yet drug warriors continue to focus their attention of the substance that causes the least harm.

Patrick Kennedy, the co-founder of Smarter Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), plead guilty to driving under the influence of prescription drugs and voluntarily checked himself into the Mayo clinic for a month to detox after crashing his car into a barricade at the Capitol.

Although no sobriety test was given, Kennedy’s behavior strongly indicated that he was also drunk and he has acknowledged that he has a problem with liquor.

Yet, what does he chose to target in his recovery process? Marijuana — the one substance that had no contribution to his addiction. And who sponsors SAM — you guessed it — Pardue Pharmaceuticals, the makers of OxyContin.

If indeed drug warriors are truly concerned about protecting our children, their efforts are misplaced.

OxyContin has caused the deaths of thousands of children and turned many more into full-blown heroin addicts, and now the FDA has approved Oxys for children as young as 11 years.

In my humble opinion, this is where their outrage should be directed.

Patricia Smith is Nevada County chair for Americans for Safe Access.


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