NewsBriefs BUTTONS

New Report on Drug Use in Washington, DC Shows Marijuana, Heroin Use Rising, Drug Culture Changing


February 1995

The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) released a report in Dec. 1994 warning that marijuana and heroin use is on the rise in Washington DC (CESAR, "Drug Abuse In Washington, DC: Insights from Quantitative and Qualitative Research," Dec. 1994).

According to the report, abuse of powder cocaine and crack continue to be major problems for Washington, DC. However, the number of samples seized, the percentage of arrestees testing positive for cocaine, and the number of emergency room admissions for cocaine have declined (except in the case of hard-core addicts). Qualitative data in the report show that youths perceive cocaine and crack users as "bottom of the barrel" (p. 3) and therefore stay away from the drug.

On the other hand, the report finds that heroin is the new "glamour" drug in Washington, DC. While quantitative data show decreases in the number of arrestees testing positive for heroin use, emergency room admissions rose significantly from 609 in the first half of 1990 to 811 in the first half of 1993. Qualitative data show, contrary to public opinion, most heroin users to be young, upper-middle class adults between the ages of 20 and 25 and use of heroin is increasingly popular among the club-goers in Washington.

The report draws on statistical data from a number of sources including the Drug Abuse Warning Network survey of drug-related emergency room admissions, numbers of calls to Washington Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse hotline, seizures by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and D.C. Pretrial Services Agency juvenile arrestees drug test results. Further, the researchers collected qualitative data in interviews with addicts living in Washington DC. and Internet users.

Drug users interviewed for the report said that the culture of the drug trade has changed dramatically in recent years. Drug use has become more risky because of uncertainty about the purity of drugs, increased drug-related violence, and the spread of HIV associated with IV drug use.

Accessibility to treatment was one of the major concerns among the users interviewed. Users said that there is no treatment available when they feel psychologically ready to enter treatment. They talked about being placed on waiting lists for weeks at a time. When treatment is forced either by the court system or family, users said treatment is not successful.

[To obtain a copy of this report, contact CESAR, 4321 Hartwick Road, Suite 501, College Park, MD, 20740, 301-403-8329.]