The Director of the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse speaks out!
Psychiatrist William Pollin, director of the NIDA since 1979, was interviewed by Plain Truth writers Donald D. Schroeder and Michael A. Snyder in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Pollin, if you had only this one opportunity to speak to our readers, how would you describe the drug abuse situation today? We've gone through a period of approximately 20 years during which there was dramatic increase in the use of drugs in this country. In most health and social problem fields, if you get a 20 to 50 percent increase — that's dramatic. If you get a 100 percent increase, that's epidemic. In the area of drug abuse, we had a 3,000 percent increase. If you go back to the early sixties, the late fifties, there were less than 1 percent of American youth of high school age who were using drugs. It was practically unknown. By the mid-1970s, it was the exception rather than the rule for American youth not to experiment with some illicit drugs-10 to 15 percent of high school seniors were using marijuana daily. In the past three years, we've seen three consecutive years of downturn in the daily use of marijuana by high school seniors. But despite the recent improvement, most knowledgeable authorities still are convinced that the level of drug use by our young people is higher than is the level of drug use by young people in any [other] developed country in the world. One has also to be aware of an underlying phenomenon — namely, the continuing, accelerating rate of discovery, development and production of ever more powerful new kinds of psychoactive substances. Many of the drugs which were our greatest concerns in the past decade — PCP, LSD, Valium, just to name three — didn't exist 15 or 20 years ago. And the very great probability is that 10 or 20 years from now, there will be many times the number of drugs available. Historically, whenever a really potent new kind of psychoactive drug becomes available, some people are going to use it. There's going to be some degree of popularity. So, we have to recognize that there's good news and bad news. And that there is a very real probability that this problem will continue to be with us, and might worsen if we don't get at its roots. There was a marked tendency in this country for 10 or 15 years, among significant parts of the society, to accept the mistaken notion that society overreacted to drugs. For a while, that really was a prevalent view. It led, in some ways, to all the pressures for decriminalization of marijuana and the like.
Is what you mean by "overreacted" the thought that perhaps drugs weren't that bad? That's right. That became an increasingly prevalent point of view. And that's unfortunate. I think that has changed. There is a much wider acceptance of the fact that drugs are a major problem — that for young people in particular, their consequences can be tragic.
You said earlier that we need to get to the root cause of drug abuse. Is there one root cause? There isn't any single root cause. Like most important social and health phenomena,' it's multi-determined. But it's clear that in addition to demographic changes, social and parental attitudes are very important. In past years there has been a sense of impotence and uncertainty that was very widespread where parents felt, "We don't know if it's right or proper for us to take a firm stand against drugs." But that feeling of anxious helplessness uncertainty has changed substantially in the past few years. Instead, there has developed a conviction that it's not only possible and desirable, but it's really the only responsible thing for parents to do — to take a very active stand in opposing use of drugs by their children.
Say I'm a parent whose child is heavily using marijuana. What advice can you give me? First, not to run away from it, as parents used to do a few years ago. My advice would be first that you communicate very vigorously the reasons that you're concerned. You also have to inform yourself what the dangers are — not to overstate them. It's clear that some of the messages put out in the early sixties — marijuana will lead people to rape and murder — causes teenagers to disbelieve all warnings. They see their friends using marijuana and they didn't rape or murder. So you've got to avoid overstating the problem — describing consequences that won't occur. But, there's a lot of evidence that's very real about what will occur. You have to recognize that if your child is very heavily into marijuana — to some extent he's lost substantially his ability to make independent, sensible decisions. You have to try rather forceful means to get him to discontinue use, even if this might involve trying to break up his peer network. If his peer network is heavily using [marijuana], it'll be very hard for him to quit. Young people have fallen into the trap of believing that by smoking and taking drugs they are asserting independence. Parents need to point out to their children that when they get into smoking and into drugs, they are being pushed around by advertising pressures, by peer pressures — and it's quite the opposite of an expression of autonomy. They're being manipulated. They lose their freedom of choice.
So smoking and drug abuse are really a form of conformity? Precisely.