Bay Area soars above rest of nation in recreational drug use 

Bay Area residents use more drugs than any other metropolitan area in the country, and medical marijuana could be part of the reason, according to officials.

The percentage of people interviewed who had used marijuana, cocaine or heroin in the Bay Area, which included Fremont and Oakland, was 12.7 percent — 3 percent higher than Seattle, the second highest-ranking area with 9.6 percent.

The study, released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, surveyed people ages 12 and older in 15 major metropolitan areas such as New York and Chicago and asked if they had participated in drug use, cigarette smoking or binge drinking a month prior to being interviewed.

The Bay Area’s drug results were higher than expected, according to Jim Stillwell, San Francisco County’s Alcohol and Drug Program administrator.

"San Francisco has always been high, but I’m surprised that it’s that much higher than the others," Stillwell said.

One of the reasons the percentage might be so high, according to Alice Gleghorn, deputy director of behavioral health services in San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, may be medical marijuana.

"The numbers could be high because of medical marijuana, which the federal government would still classify as illicit drug use," Gleghorn said.

She added that the survey failed to get any more specific on the types of drug being used by those who were interviewed.

Gleghorn said another reason for the high numbers might be related to the excellent growing conditions for marijuana in California.

"You can’t use what you don’t have," she said.

While the Bay Area may be pro-marijuana, it isn’t crazy about cigarettes. The region tied with Los Angeles with the lowest percentage of cigarette smokers, 17.9 percent. The national average is 25.3 percent.

John Newmeyer, epidemiologist for the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, said he has watched marijuana become part of The City’s cultural norm the last 35 years. And when it comes down to it, he said, smoking pot is safer than cigarettes.

"There is a low level of people reporting to hospitals and treatment facilities because of it," he said, adding that the real problem to watch for might be within methamphetamine use.

eeconomides@examiner.com

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