Portrayal of ‘lesser drugs’ a misconception

BUCKHANNON – With all the big-name drugs making headlines, a misconception seems to be permeating that other less high-powered substances are not as severe, a drug prevention professional said Tuesday.

Cathy Coontz, a National Prevention Network for West Virginia representative, told Buckhannon Rotary members that many people have misconceptions about some of the most often overlooked drugs, like alcohol and marijuana.

She said drug overdose is now the No. 1 killer in West Virginia, with a higher death rate than vehicle accidents. She also said many drugs and abused substances are left in the wake by the focus on bigger-name problems like methamphetamine use. Coontz said many substances are often overlooked, like marijuana and alcohol, but still are big problems today.

“Alcohol is probably the most prevalent issue that we have in the United States and in West Virginia,” Coontz said. “It’s largely overlooked. You don’t know how many times I’ve gone to speak with folks about just alcohol, and they don’t realize that beer has alcohol in it.”

Another, sometimes overlooked drug is marijuana, Coontz said.

“Marijuana is a really up-and-coming drug that is kind of scaring me a little bit because of all the legislation in Colorado and Washington state that has been passed,” Coontz said. “We have had this in our own Legislature. … What scares me about this is the perception of marijuana is really, really bad in West Virginia. A lot of people think that it’s not really a drug, it doesn’t really affect you and doesn’t impair your driving.”

Coontz said the argument often presented in favor of the drug is one that represents it as a feasible substitute for prescription drugs.

“When it is touted as something that can be beneficial to the human race instead of something that is detrimental, we really took a hard look at the studies these people were referring to and taking to the Legislature to try to convince them marijuana would be a feasible substitute for prescription drugs,” Coontz said. “When you take a look at those studies, there’s not one that really has legitimacy.”

Coontz said marijuana actually has gotten stronger than it used to be because of changes to its genetic structure through hybridization.

“The marijuana of today is so different even from the marijuana of 1998,” Coontz said. “The marijuana of the ’70s is nothing like the marijuana of today. The difference is it has been genetically hybridized. That increases the chemical in it that produces the high, which is THC. It’s up to eight times more powerful now than it has been since 1998. The perception is that the harm is going down, but even the drug’s toxicity has gone up.”