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Archive for Sunday, March 11, 1990

ILLEGAL DRUG USE CUTS THROUGH ALL SEGMENTS OF SOCIETY IN LAWRENCE

March 11, 1990

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"D.D." is a 39-year-old Lawrence man who lives with his wife and daughter in a ranch-style house on a quiet street in a west Lawrence neighborhood.

The well-kept house, sitting in the middle of a neatly trimmed lawn, fits right in with the other homes in the neighborhood.

It isn't the kind of place where you might expect to find drugs. But inside, D.D. is smoking marijuana. There's nothing new about that; he's been doing it for about 20 years.

D.D. said he doesn't sell drugs and he smokes marijuana in the privacy of his own home.

"I'm not hurting anybody," he said. "I just do my own thing. I just want to be left . . . alone."

CAROL IS A 26-year-old Topeka resident who started using cocaine in the mid-1980s as a student at Kansas University. Carol started out occasionally buying a quarter-gram of cocaine, which would get her high for about four hours.

From there, her consumption steadily increased. For several weeks before she quit using cocaine in early 1989, she was spending $250 to $350 a week on the drug. Her food budget for the past several months had been $5 a week. She was so skinny that her clothes didn't fit, and even her shoes were loose.

She would work for about four hours a day and then go home, draw the blinds and smoke cocaine for the rest of the day.

"There wasn't a time in my life I could foresee stopping," she said. "It was something I couldn't envision. I put cocaine over everything family, friends, my job. It was a partner, basically."

Link, a local professional musician, used to smoke marijuana every morning and frequently took LSD and cocaine "because it was fun."

NOW, HE smokes marijuana occasionally because he likes the way it makes him feel. Link likens the drug to beer in that it relaxes him.

"I'm not hell-bent on self-destruction or anything," he said, sardonically.

Besides drug usage, Link, Carol and D.D. have little in common. They differ in gender, age, education and economic status . . . the list of descriptive terms goes on.

But they demonstrate what law enforcement officers, other users and treatment and prevention counselors say is a simple fact of life: Drug usage has reached every sector of society.

People interviewed for this story who are referred to by first names only asked that their real names not be used.

John Colyer, clinical director at the DCCCA Center, said drug use has snowballed because it's socially acceptable and even desirable among some groups.

"WHEN I WAS a kid, we knew where to get marijuana because we knew where it was growing," he said. "But I never smoked the stuff. It wasn't because I was some sort of great kid or anything, but it was because I knew I wouldn't be accepted by the girls I wanted to go out with, or with the guys I played football with, if I did it. Today, that attitude has changed."

Indeed, users and counselors say, use of illegal drugs is nearly as common in their lives as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are to non-users. The difference is that the drug culture remains firmly underground.

Mark Creamer, a 43-year-old Lawrence man who purposely got himself arrested last September by smoking marijuana at the Lawrence Police Department, said he and his friends have been using marijuana since the 1960s.

"I could have done it for another 20 years and never been caught," he said, adding that he and his friends kept their marijuana use in their own circle and received their supplies from a longtime, trusted source. He would not identify the source.

CREAMER WENT public about his drug use and has been fighting a one-man crusade for the legalization of marijuana since hearing President Bush's drug policy speech in September.

Creamer argues that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and, if legalized, could provide tax revenue that could be used to fight harder drugs such as cocaine.

D.D. says he also has been a marijuana user for about 20 years and continues to smoke it daily, which he demonstrated several times during an interview. Although he's been convicted in Douglas County of marijuana possession, he believes he should be entitled to smoke marijuana.

Regular smokers say the relaxing and perception-altering effects of the drug outweigh other potential dangers such as short-term memory loss and lung disease.

The smokers, like all of the current drug users interviewed for this series, said their drug use isn't a problem.

DCCCA counselors stress that use of illicit drugs is a problem on its face because such substances are illegal. DCCCA, a local drug intervention, prevention and treatment program, defines two levels of drug problems.

The first is abuse, when a person makes bad decisions under the influence of alcohol or drugs or takes substances in reaction to a situation. Examples of abuse are drinking and driving or turning to drugs after the breakup of a relationship.

The other level is dependency, which Colyer said is an addictive disease that affects the body's chemical makeup.

Not all users have problems. DCCCA defines one category of usage as "social use," in which a user generally makes good decisions about when, where and why they use substances and how much they use.

The current users in this story said they didn't think their drug usage was a problem because they kept it to themselves or among friends, they didn't deal drugs and they never got into debt by purchasing drugs.

ALTHOUGH TONY was arrested, jailed and currently is on parole for cocaine usage, he said he doesn't plan to stop using drugs.

"I won't use steadily anymore," he said. "But I really don't see the harm in smoking reefer at the lake with a few friends or something. It's a real casual way of enjoying yourself."

Users said they also regulate their usage.

Cheryl, a Lawrence woman who works at a downtown clothing store, said she has smoked marijuana daily and weekly, but now uses monthly at the most. The reason she cut down wasn't because she had a problem.

"Like anything else, it just gets old," she said. "I did it (daily) because it was fun. And a lot of it had to do with the people I hung out with. I still hang around people who do it every day, but I don't. You just get bored with it, like anything else."

Other sources cited health concerns as the reason they cut back.

A KANSAS University student interviewed last fall said he smokes marijuana every three or four days and, until shortly before the interview, took LSD every 1 to two weeks. The student said he quit using LSD because he read an article about the damaging effects of the drug on the brain.

"It's just not worth it," he said.

Most users said they know addicts but said people who develop problems are a small minority of their social groups.

"Everybody I know gets high," Link said. "But it's not like going out and getting falling-down . . . drunk every night. A lot of them get home from work, smoke reefer and chill out, right?"

Tony, who owns a local business, is married and has a young son, guessed that 80 percent of his friends use drugs. Of those, he said, all but a couple "never let it interfere with their jobs or their families."

Former users say they didn't realize they had a problem when they were using. But they eventually realized that drugs provided a smokescreen that hid problems in their lives.

ALTHOUGH SHE began taking drugs for fun and excitement, Carol said she later started snorting cocaine when she felt depressed. Soon, she said, cocaine became more important than her job, her family and anything else in her life.

"I was looking at losing my job. My family relations were awful," she said. "I was $4,500 in debt and living on the run, paranoid."

Carol said she did things on cocaine that she wouldn't have considered doing sober. For instance, she persuaded a friend to write a college term paper for her so that she could party.

Other examples were more painful to remember.

"I slept with people for drugs," she said quietly. "I never prostituted myself, but I slept with people knowing I would get drugs."

Kathy, a 23-year-old Lawrence woman who abused cocaine for 10 years, said she realized that cocaine usage destroyed her values.

"I lost everything," she said. "I lost my family, I lost my friends, and I didn't care as long as I got more."

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