Drug addiction costs billions, expert tells P.E.I. conference

Ryan Ross
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National Institute on Drug Abuse phramacologist Jag Khalsa, here at the Canadian Society of Addiction Medecine annual meeting in Charlottetown, says substance abuse affects 200 million people around the world.

On the same day Charlottetown police arrested people for dealing drugs at city high schools, Jag Khalsa was at a conference talking about the consequences of drug use.

Khalsa is a pharmacologist with the U.S.-based National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NISA) and was at the Delta Prince Edward last week as a speaker for the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine’s (CSAM) annual meeting.

There are more than 200 million drug addicts worldwide and addictions cost the U.S. billions of dollars every year, he said.

“Substance abuse is one of the major problems in the world.”

Through his work with NISA Khalsa manages the medical consequences of drug abuse and co-occuring infections branch, which conducts research into the effects of drug use. Khalsa said infections, such as HIV and hepatitis, can occur in drug abusers, but they aren’t the only types of illness that stem from drug abuse.

“Drug addiction is a brain disorder so we do a lot of research into how drugs affect the brain.”

While the costs of drug abuse are high in the U.S., Khalsa said they aren’t alone with drug addiction as a major problem in Canada as well, especially with marijuana.

“Marijuana is the most abused drug in the world.”

Khalsa said a lot of people think marijuana is safe but it can affect memory and the central nervous system.

“Marijuana is perceived to be harmless, but it’s not.”

He used the example of a study out of Ontario that followed women who smoked marijuana during pregnancy and kept track of their children as they got older.

It showed the marijuana use had a detrimental effect on the children.

“Central nervous effects were quite significant.”

But Khalsa said marijuana use is not the only drug problem and while drug use has plateaued in recent years, prescription drug use in young people has increased.

“That is troublesome to a lot of people.”

And despite all the work organizations like his do around the world, Khalsa knows they will never eliminate drug addiction.

“What we need to do is reduce the impact of it.”

To help reduce that impact his group, which has a budget of about $1 billion, supports research on treatment of infections related to drug addiction and also supports research into drug addiction vaccines.

“It’s a major program at the institute.”

Organizations: Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Delta Prince Edward

Geographic location: U.S., Charlottetown, Canada Ontario

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  • M Butler
    October 25, 2010 - 10:14

    If addictions cost billions of dollars, then how much more does the war on drugs cost us??? All the time and man hours put into busting a bunch of potheads is a total waste of money!!! The government and police don't understand that they are not making any ground in the fight against drugs. Now don't get me wrong, I think hard drugs like Cocaine, Meth, Heroin, or any other CHEMICAL drugs should be completely eliminated, but Pot and Hash should be completely legalized!!! The money the government would make by putting a sales tax on Marijuana would completely wipe out Canada's debt in 1 year and they would be able to monitor and limit the amount of Marijuana better too!!!! It makes no sense to waste money and time trying to bust Marijuana users and dealers when they could legalize it and actually make money from it. If they can do it for alcohol and cigarettes, then they should certainly do it for Marijuana considering that its better for you than both alcohol and cigarettes.

  • Bruce
    October 25, 2010 - 09:57

    To Not Safe, The marijuana today is NOT stronger than the 60's or 70's marijuana that you smoked as a teen. The difference today is, only the flowering tops are smoked, as opposed in the 60's and 70's where more leaf was consumed. A hard drug, oh please. The real danger these days is prescription drugs. Did you know that more than 150,000 people in North America die every year from prescription drugs? Marijuana is less habit forming than coffee. Should we ban Tim's coffee?

  • Not safe
    October 25, 2010 - 09:02

    The Mary Jane that was smoked in the sixties and seventies is completely different than the stuff which is smoked today. The THC levels from the sixties and seventies was around 5% to 9% THC. Now the Drug is perfected and the THC levels are up around 19% to 22%. It is not just smoking pot anymore. It should be considered a hard drug!

  • Shawn Murphy
    October 25, 2010 - 08:52

    I don't know what is more disturbing, this article filled with lies or the fact that "the guardian" won't even let my comments through. Your lies didn't work when I was a teenager and now, 35 years later, I see nothing has changed.

  • Bruce
    October 25, 2010 - 08:29

    To Victims of overgrown teenagers and Islander, You two and the speaker Khalsa are preaching a lie. Marijuana is not addictive, and I ask anyone to show me proof that it is. Marijuana is a very safe drug, in fact it is safer than alcohol, tobacco, asprin, and acetaminophen. It has been used both medically and for recreation for over 3000 years, with not one death from consumption, ever. As far as being a burn out or lazy from marijuana, that's a stereotype. I smoke cannabis for medical reasons everyday. I have a full time job, requiring me to juggle complex tasks for over 100 hours a week. Do me a favour and get educated and stop this reefer madness. Holes in their brains, you gotta be kidding?

  • cignus x 1
    October 25, 2010 - 08:23

    Marijuana is safer than alcohol. It's a proven fact.

  • mccccc
    October 25, 2010 - 01:37

    I highly doubt that Marijuana is abused more than alcohol. And to VICTIMS OF OVERGROWN TEENAGERS, did you just finish watching reefer madness? Do you also think we should make drinking alcohol illegal? Alcohol is far more destructive than marijuana. I'm not sure where you got your info from but marijuana doesn't exactly make people aggressive. They need to stop wasting money and resources busting pot smokers and try to curb the major problems with real drugs like cocaine and prescription pills.

  • an Islander
    October 24, 2010 - 14:26

    I'm no prude and like a brew now and then , all the weed smokers I grew up with and who still toke ...are basicly useless ..lazy and expect everything given to them....if they do work it is seasonal or non-productive type enviroments....I have seen the affects of long term marihuana use ..especially the new varieties ie:BC Bud..on top of that ....there are the prescription drug user's who are becoming the majority of abusing world......and the medical system that keeps them supplied......they are the classic "enablers".....The island disease "substance abuse".............you know who you are........start at the Provincial Correctional centre and work your way up the food chain............

  • Victims of overgrown teenagers
    October 24, 2010 - 13:41

    As long as adults and parents will think that marijuana is no big deal, their children, growing up with under-developed damaged brains (small holes can be seen on cat-scans) will end up on the path of paranoia and nerve damage. We will continue to be the victims of their crimes: aggressive behavior when they are craving it, stealing and assaulting to get money to buy it, and getting addicted to stronger drugs, instead of learning to face whatever life throws at them, bravely and responsibly. In my opinion, the Addiction Centres are the cover-up solution. Actions (not pamphlets) should be taken at a much earlier stage, before they get to the . All over the Island, and especially in Charlottetown and Summerside, people are victims of more and more crimes and vandalism, on a weekly bases. Police is doing it's best, but I feel they need the support of all citizens to make children aware of the strategy of the drug dealers approaching them. free drug first, then when they are hooked on it, increasing the cost, and finally offering them to pay their debts by selling drugs for them; kids end up in jail, but the big dealers are rarely cut - and they care only about their own wallet they are not . I think that social workers should get out of their offices, and do some counselling work on the streets in the evenings and weekends, where the real dangers and dealings occur. It is quite awful to see that the young people don't seem to know how to have fun without chemicals. They are not encouraged to discover other options than expensive sports to socialize with their peers. It seems that without taking drugs or without a beer in their hand, they have no personality at all, no identity and no self-confidence. I know that large amount of taxes are collected from the sale of these products, but I find the health, intelligence, and future of these youngsters should be the priority instead of the money. It might be a worthwhile eye-opener for the good and righteous citizens to skip a few hours of their precious sleep to go out at night and witness what is really going on on the streets, in mall parking lots and at the door of the bars. You might realize that your glamorous generosity of time and money for people of other countries could be well used for the children and teenagers of your own town and small villages, right under your nose. I think you should consider directing part of your generosity to help pay salaries for competent and trained social workers to help all the children and teenagers surrounding you in our communities - rich or poor - and not only your own children - so we all can be safe and live a better life.