As an outspoken critic of our nation's drugwar, I am naturally opposed to any sort of random drug testing. Indeed I am completely abhorred by the whole notion of hunting down and jailing people for doing things to themselves in the first place. I recently came across a report from the Centers for Disease Control however, that has me rethinking my ideas when it comes to drug testing in schools.
The report in question deals with the average numbers of sports related injury visits to our nations hospital emergency departments. Since drug-testing students has seemingly become de rigueur in schools for those participating in extracurricular activities, I think it is important to put the issues in perspective.
We are all concerned of course over the constant barrage of reports, pronouncements and advertising about the dangers that marijuana poses to our young people. But did you know that based on emergency room visit data, smoking marijuana is safer for young people than cheerleading? Did you ever think it was possible that playing basketball is 13 times as "dangerous" to youth as smoking marijuana?
The CDC report in question tabulated the average number of sports injury emergency room visits for the years 1997 and 1998 involving those aged 5 to 24. For comparison purposes, I looked up the data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network for the same years, although the DAWN data is broken out for a slightly different age demographic - namely those aged 6 to 25.
Of course, no one thinks that children should be using drugs, but think about it - if you consider those 15 and older "children" you may be a bigger part of the problem than you realize. But how does emergency room data for drug use compare to that for sports injuries? Let's have a look, shall we?
An average 89 million annual emergency room visits occurred during the timeframe in question, of which slightly under 12 million (or some 13 percent) were for sports related injuries to those aged 5 to 24. Of all such sports injuries, it should not be surprising that large numbers of them involved basketball (447,000), football (271,000) and baseball/softball (245,000). But did you know that pedal cycling caused 421,000 annual ER visits? Or that gymnastics/cheerleading injuries were responsible for 146,000 annual emergency room visits?
Injuries involving ice- or roller- skating/blading send 150,000 young people to hospitals yearly, while playground accidents are responsible for another 137,000. Soccer it would seem is a much "safer" sport, as soccer related injuries account for a mere 95,000 annual ER visits.
So where does drug use fit in with all this mayhem, you may ask. Rock bottom. Alcohol was involved in some 37,000 annual ER visits for those aged 6 to 25, while marijuana accounted for 33,000. So what of the claims from the Office of National Drug Control Policy that marijuana "mentions" in the ER had reached 110,000 annually by 2001? As it turns out, that number is only one-tenth of one percent of the total number of ER visits, and 85 percent of them involved those aged 18 or older. Clearly, our "children" are not really in any grave danger from illegal drugs.
I couldn't find statistics for injuries to band members, thespians or the chess club, so those activities may be safer than participating in sports or smoking marijuana. Once again we're sending conflicting messages to our youth - how do we explain that we'd rather they become crippled playing football than that they got stoned and played video games?
Meanwhile, our schools are suffering tremendous budget deficits, none of which are drug related. I am in no way advocating that "children" use drugs of any sort. But can't the adults demonstrate a bit of intelligence on the issue now and then? Marijuana - it isn't anywhere near as scary as some would have you believe.
Written April 8, 2003