Archive for August, 2013

The Resulting Effects from Casual Marijuana Use by Teenagers Still a Concern

Tuesday, Aug. 20th 2013

smoking-joint

Researchers at the University of Michigan survey 8th, 10th and 12th-graders every year in what is known as the ‘Monitoring the Future survey’. The university conducts that survey every year and this year the survey revealed that overall use of marijuana amongst the surveyed teens increased while the perception of potential harm of the drug decreased.

The 2012 survey reveals that amongst high school seniors, 6.5% smoke marijuana every day. This is an increase from 5.1% just five years ago. When asked, almost 23% admitted that they have used the drug in the last 30 days, while a massive 36% admitted that they used it in the last twelve months. The numbers are lowered amongst tenth graders, with 3.5% admitting to daily use, 17% reporting monthly use and 28% reporting they have used the drug in the past twelve months. The survey reveals that the overall use escalates after the eighth grade, considering that the numbers are much lower amongst this group (1.1% daily, 6.5% within the last month, and 11% in the last year).

The Perception of Harm is Decreasing

The study also revealed that not only did more teens smoke cannabis, but they also believed it was less harmful. When teens perceive the dangers associated with use to be lower, it can signal future increases in use. Amongst the eighth graders surveyed, only 41.7% perceived the drug to be harmful when used recreationally while 66.9% saw it as harmful when used regularly. Ever since the survey started asking about risk perception within this age group in 1991, those numbers have never been that low.

As teenagers become older, they also perceive marijuana as less harmful. Amongst 12th graders only 20.6% see occasional use as harmful, this is the lowest figure since 1983. When asked about regular use, less than half of the teens (44.1%) saw regular use as harmful; this is the lowest reported number since 1979. Clearly, the use of cannabis is not seen as something dangerous or harmful with a large percentage of young adults.

Harmless Drug? The Opposite is True

Whereas the perception of harm may be lowered amongst teens, recent studies have shown that using marijuana, especially at these younger ages when the brain is still developing, may be far more dangerous than initially believed. Recent studies reveal why teen use of marijuana is something that people cannot afford to turn a blind eye to:

  • Studies show that when using marijuana before turning 18, teenagers are 200% to 400% more likely to develop a psychosis by the time they reach adulthood.
  • THC is the main active component of marijuana. Extensive research has shown that when taken excessively during the teenage years, THC may negatively affect brain development. The part of the brain that appears to take most of the damage is the hippocampus, this part of the brain is vital for retaining memories and learning new things.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the result of a 38-year NIH-funded study, revealed that those who use marijuana heavily in their teens and continue to use throughout their adult life will experience a dramatic drop in IQ between age 13 and 38. On average, those who met the criteria for cannabis dependence dropped eight points. Heavy use before the age of 18 (again, this is when the brain is still in development) also led to impaired mental abilities. These impaired mental abilities remained even after the user no longer took the drug. All these findings are consistent with many other studies that show a correlation between long-term, heavy cannabis use and neural or cognitive impairment.

It Has Physical Problems as Well

Mental health issues are not the only concern with the decreased perception of cannabis harm. Remember that cannabis smoke is filled with respiratory irritants and carcinogens. Some teens mistakenly believe that smoking from devices such as water pipes might somehow reduce the damage done to the lungs, another reason for the mistaken perception of safety. Even though tobacco smoke and cannabis smoke contain many of the same chemicals, users will inhale far deeper and hold the smoke in their lungs far longer when using cannabis. The longer someone keeps the smoke in their system, the more they expose their lungs to respiratory irritants and carcinogens. This is one of the reasons that long-term users have many of the same issues that plague long-term tobacco users, including being susceptible to bronchitis, coughs and chest colds.

Doesn’t it also Serve as a Gateway Drug?

The truth is that even with the lowered perception of risk; the vast majority of teenagers will not seek out heroin, cocaine, opioids, or anything else because of their earlier cannabis use. However, studies have shown that most teenagers will not try other illicit substances without having tried cannabis first. Trying an illicit substance will lower the threshold for using other substances later on and may put users in contact with people who will sell other, far more dangerous, illicit substances. Even though the opportunity to do so does not necessarily mean that people will begin to make use of it, does open the door to other drugs.

It is Not a Harmless Drug

Especially for teenagers whose bodies and brains are still developing, the use of marijuana can be dangerous. While we have to be careful not to demonize it and suggest it is as dangerous or addictive as cocaine and heroin, just because it does not lead to the same amount of harm or dependence, does not mean it is a healthy alternative that should be explored. Even though science is finding out that there are possible medicinal benefits to the use of marijuana, it is not without its dangers. Clearly, this is a point that many teenagers are unaware of. Instead of demonizing the drug and stating that use will lead to addiction, education should focus on the fact that there are scientific reasons that cannabis use, especially for teens, can lead to serious regrets down the road.

 

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Drug Rehab Fraud and How It Relates to Government Waste

Wednesday, Aug. 7th 2013

Defrauding the Government with Drug Rehab

We have often advocated for better state funding when it comes to drug rehab services. There is no denying that even a small percentage of the money our government spends on law enforcement could be used to make a change in the lives of those people struggling with a dependence on drugs. One of the most frustrating and worrisome aspects that we have come across is the notion of increased drug rehab fraud, as recently exposed in California by CNN reporters.

This Particular Fraudulent Situation

The Able Family Support clinic in the San Fernando Valley had no idea that reporters were taking an active count of how many people went in and out of the clinic that particular day. While there were 30 people that entered into the rehabilitation center that day, the reimbursement requested later on told a different story altogether. According to the bill submitted to Los Angeles County, The Able Family Support clinic claimed that it helped 179 that day – a deviation of 149 patients. However, the government promptly paid the bill of $6,400 for clients that never even entered into the clinic without asking a question. While we might be able to account for a deviation of two or three patients with shoddy bookkeeping, a deviation of almost 150 patients points towards one direction – drug rehab fraud.

Part of the Problem with Substance Abuse Fraud

One significant part of the issue is that for these facilities, such as the one in the San Fernando Valley, it is extremely easy to perpetrate government fraud. A quick look at the official government website reveals just how many different clinics throughout California receive reimbursement. It would not be inconceivable, statistically speaking, to suggest that some of the people running these programs might be immoral and exaggerate the number of patients that they help.

The problem is that if it were not for the reporters who took an active interest in that particular clinic, the drug rehab abuse would likely still be going on. The State’s oversight is simply inadequate and relies on the ‘honor system.’ Unfortunately, there is evidence that suggests brief and infrequent inspections do not help weed out the problem and that even when red flags do appear, government officials are slow to react. Oftentimes, it may be months or possibly even years before a problem becomes evident.

Two Curious Cases

Government corruption, bureaucratic apathy and weak regulations do little to help root out drug rehab fraud. Research by CIR and CNN found that dozens of rehabilitation clinics that were caught cheating the system were not only still in business, but also saw their public funding increased.

Take Alexander Ferdman, the director of the aforementioned Able Family Support clinic; even though he refuses to explain the discrepancy in patients, this would not even be an issue if government mismanagement had kept him from running a Medi-Cal clinic in the first place. While there is a law on the books that states felons cannot run Medi-Cal clinics, Mr. Ferdman is still actively running one, despite having been convicted of engaging in organized crime in Texas in 2000. Only three years after that conviction, California officials approved him for a drug rehab clinic.

That would be bad enough if it were an isolated incident, but the case of George Ilouno suggests that it is not isolated at all, but in fact rampant. Though some people are on the Medicaid blacklist and not supposed to be able to bill for rehab funds, this certainly did not stop Mr. Ilouno. This suggests that these programs fail even when red flags show up everywhere. While Mr. Ilouno has been convicted for having defrauded the student loan program, he was still able to bill Medicaid. Despite the fact that he was legally ineligible to do so, he received more than a million dollars from the county.

What Went Wrong in this Situation?

Part of the problem is the fact that there is no one held accountable for this government waste. The policing of the Drug Medi-Cal program is split between the state and the county. While certifications for these clinics come from the State of California, the counties themselves are in charge of handling the money. If they make a mistake, the counties assume the financial risk. Yet, both the state and county analysts claim to audit the clinics every year.

For many people this makes it difficult to determine who is actually in charge of the situation, who is actively handling these issues, along with where people should report any potential issues? Within that realm of legal ambiguity, fraud is able to thrive.

The Costs of Healthcare Fraud and Abuse

Take into consideration that healthcare fraud and abuse costs taxpayers an estimated $80 billion a year. Add in the fact that this number has increased in recent years with experts expecting this number to climb in the next few years, you may begin to understand why a change is necessary. While healthcare fraud is a serious issue, drug rehab fraud takes money from an area that already has a severely limited budget.

Keep in mind that a large percentage of the federal budget for drug rehabilitation services is spent on law enforcement rather than education and treatment. These services have a limited budget to work with and with unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the system, it means that people who would actually benefit from receiving qualified long-term inpatient rehab are not getting the help they need because of these budgetary concerns.

We Must Protect those Who Need Help

Consider some of Mr. Ferdman’s irresponsibly laughable spending decisions since opening his rehab center in 2003. The 2004 budget for the clinic shows that money that should have been used to help those who are struggling with dependence and have little to no income went somewhere else. In fact, Mr. Ferdman spent more than $10,000 in gifts and travel. This includes a $586 crab feast and a $605 bill at a Palm Springs spa resort. Mr. Ferdman even had the audacity to claim that the money was spent on “promoting and outreach” for the clinic.

The truth is that a rehab clinic aimed at helping those less privileged does not need promotion and outreach and certainly does not need to do so at a Palm Springs spa resort. These programs need to make every dime count in order to offer the best possible rehab service available, including long-term drug recovery options.

The issue is not necessarily that the taxpayers are defrauded, something that is bad enough on its own, but the fact is that people struggling with drug addiction need all the help they are able to get. Because of greedy, deceitful people like these two men, patients are forced to pay for their own rehabilitation out of pocket, something most people struggling with long-term addiction are unable to do, or settle for less successful and shorter programs because that is all they can afford. It is important that state officials address the issue and ensure a streamlined approach. Otherwise, chances are that those in trouble are less and less likely to receive the qualified help they need.

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