prescription-pill-addiction-increasing-rapidly-in-nevadaI keep posting articles about the recreational and abusive use of pharmaceutical drugs because I believe that it’s an issue that is neither well explored in the media nor adequately acknowledged in the way our legal system around drugs is structured. At the same time, though, I’m wary about the tendency for the media to create a “drug scare” hype around such drug use in much the same way we’ve seen in the past around methamphetamine and crack cocaine.

Today, a TV station from my childhood home of San Diego has a story that takes the pharmaceutical use issue and treats it with a fact-free style that would make Crappy Hackingtonproud, slinging undocumented assertions around as if they were flapjacks at Denny’s:

Oxycontin The Drug Of Choice For Young, White Males

More and more teenagers are turning to their parents’ medicine cabinet to get high. Their prescription drug of choice: a pain reliever called oxycontin. It’s a disturbing trend of teenage boys getting hooked on a drug as powerful as morphine.

[An OxyContin user named] Joe fits the demographic of an increasing number of oxycontin addicts: young white males. Alvarado Parkway Institute psychologist Sean O’Hara says he sees six to seven teenagers a week who abuse oxycontin

“Kids are getting it by forging their own prescriptions. Kids are getting it by buying it on the internet. Kids are getting it by going down to Mexico,” he said.

This reporter dips into the classic Crappy Hackington lexicon to document a trend, relying on meaningless terms like “more and more,” and “an increasing number,” in spite of the fact that there are actually several studies out there, with good data, directly on point. One could look at the annual Monitoring the Future study of youth drug use, for example, which stated in its 2007 report (on p. 28 of the “Key Findings” document) that

OxyContin use increased for all grades over the interval 2002 (when it was first measured) through 2007, though the trend lines have been irregular. Annual prevalence in 2007 was 1.8%, 3.9%, and 5.2% in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively. Use of Vicodin, on the other hand, has remained fairly constant since 2002, though at considerably higher levels than OxyContin. In 2007 annual prevalence rates were 2.7%, 7.2%, and 9.6% in grades 8, 10, and 12.

One could also look at the which reported last year that “nonmedical use of prescription drugs among young adults increased from 5.4 percent in 2002 to 6.4 percent in 2006, due largely to an increase in the nonmedical use of pain relievers.”

So there is a story here, but the reporter just didn’t make any effort to figure out what it is. She doesn’t really even attempt to back up the assertion that OxyContin use is somehow unusually high among white teenage boys compared to other groups, deciding instead to rely on the claim by one psychologist that he sees a couple kids a week. Needless to say, that psychologist’s claim, presented with no comparison to anything else and no attempt to determine whether these numbers have gone up or down, shows absolutely nothing.  And yet, the  “young, white male” idea is actually the hook of this story on a “disturbing trend.