Rhode Island Tops U.S. for Marijuana, Illicit Drug Use

By McCarton Ackerman 01/13/15

The rise in marijuana use in the tiny New England state appears to coincide with relaxing drug laws.


With just over 1,200 square miles, Rhode Island might be the smallest the state in the U.S., but it packs a big punch when it comes to illicit drug use.
The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health has confirmed that state residents use marijuana at rates higher than anyplace else in the country.

Approximately 14% of residents ages 12 and older reported using marijuana in the past month, up from 13% the previous year. Twenty percent of residents admitted to using pot in the last year, compared to 19% in the last survey. Colorado had the second-highest number of pot users at 12.7%, while national numbers came in at 7.4%
“The issue of prevention has always been something of importance…Marijuana, for many people, seems to be an innocuous product, and with the relaxing of the laws in Rhode Island, it makes it easier for people to make a choice,” said Michael Rizzi, president and CEO of the substance-abuse treatment and prevention agency CODAC. “[They think] ‘at least I don’t have to worry about being arrested.’”
Rhode Island also led the list in consumption of all illegal drugs, with 4.3% of residents consuming them in the last month. Rhode Island health officials reported 212 deaths from accidentally drug overdoses between January and November of last year, matching similar numbers to 2013. The state was also among the top of the list when it came to alcohol consumption.
However, the state's Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals is looking to tackle this issue head on. They are looking to educate state residents about the dangers of marijuana and other drugs through a federal “Partnership for Success” grant.
“If the perceived risk goes down, the use goes up,” said Rebecca Boss, deputy director of the state's Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. "We are trying to be proactive and get ahead of this. We think we have programs in place that may not have an immediate impact, but [will] in years to come.”
State health officials also announced a surge in overdose deaths last January after 22 people died from ingesting illicit drugs in the first two weeks of the year. Fentanyl was found in the systems of 13 of those who overdosed.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.