Several thousand people in the Washington, D.C., area have sought admission to state drug treatment programs for marijuana dependency in each of the past four years, according to state records obtained by the News4 I-Team.
The local cases include a rising number of women who acknowledge a dependency on marijuana.
In Virginia, men and women who seek treatment for dependency are also contributing to a growing cost to taxpayers for funding drug treatment programs locally.
“You’re not going to find a lot of people who are going to die from marijuana overdoses, but don’t discount the effects,” said Montgomery Recovery Services program coordinator Angela Caldwell. “It affects their life. There are adverse consequences to marijuana.”
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the I-Team requested Virginia and Maryland health agency records on substance abuse treatment admissions.
Virginia records show health agencies admitted approximately 4,000 people citing marijuana dependency to state-sponsored treatment programs in each of the past four years. Though the records show a large majority of people seeking state-supported substance abuse treatment are men, there has been a noticeable increase of women between the ages of 31 and 40.
State records provided to the I-Team by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services showed a nearly $20 million increase in the cost of taxpayer-supported drug treatment between 2017 and 2018.
The addictive nature of marijuana is commonly debated. In testimony before the the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016, medical experts testified about how dependencies can form.
“Epidemiological surveys indicate that 8 to 9 percent of adults and 17 percent of teenagers who try marijuana become addicted and that the number of Americans who are now dependent on the drug is approximately 2.7 million, according to recent estimates,” Dr. Daniele Piomelli, professor of neurobiology at the University of California-Irvine, told the panel.
Matt Paris, a Damascus father who battled drug addiction six years ago, said he smoked marijuana multiple times each day before entering recovery. Paris, who now serves as an addiction counselor, said he was addicted to the drug.
“I couldn’t get anything done," he said. "I wasn’t able to accomplish anything because all I wanted to do was smoke.”
Paris said he fears marijuana dependency will rise as the drug becomes increasingly available amid decriminalization efforts in several states.
“Marijuana isn’t going anywhere," he said. "The drug epidemic isn’t going anywhere either.”
For help with marijuana dependency, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's free, confidential hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit its website.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.