Criminal Justice Referrals Driving Marijuana 'Treatment' Admissions, Federal Report Finds

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Rockville, MD: Nearly six out of ten people admitted to drug treatment programs for marijuana are referred there by the criminal justice system, according to a just-released report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA).

In 2008, 57 percent of persons referred to treatment for marijuana as their 'primary substance of abuse' were referred by the criminal justice system. For adolescents, nearly half (48 percent) were referred via the criminal justice system.

By contrast, criminal justice referrals accounted for just 37 percent of the overall total of drug treatment admissions in 2008.

"Primary marijuana admissions were less likely than all admissions combined to be self-referred to treatment," the study found. Specifically, the reported noted that only 15 percent of marijuana treatment admissions were self-referred (a category that includes individual self-referrals, as well as referrals by friends and family). This percentage was less than half the number of self-referrals for alcohol and cocaine, and about one-quarter the number of self-referrals reported for heroin abuse (56 percent).

Since 1998 the percentage of individuals in drug treatment programs primarily for marijuana has risen approximately 25 percent, the report found. This increase is being primarily driven by a proportional rise in the percentage of criminal justice referrals. According to a previous federal study, the proportion of marijuana treatment admissions from all sources other than the criminal justice system has been declining since the mid-1990s.

Commenting on the study, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: "These statistics make it clear that it is not marijuana use per se that is driving these treatment admission rates; it is marijuana prohibition that is primarily responsible. These people for the most part are not 'addicts' in any true sense of the word. Rather, they are ordinary Americans who have experienced the misfortune of being busted for marijuana who are forced to choose between rehab or jail."

According to federal figures compiled by SAMHSA in 2009, some 37 percent of the estimated 288,000 thousand people who entered drug treatment for cannabis in 2007 had not reported using it in the 30 days previous to their admission. Another 16 percent of those admitted said that they'd used marijuana three times or fewer in the month prior to their admission.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org. Full text of the report, "Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) 1998-2008: National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services," is available online at: http://wwwdasis.samhsa.gov/teds08/teds2k8natweb.pdf.