Drug Czar Misled Press on Teen's Suicide, Marijuana
Young Victim Tested Positive for Alcohol, Not Marijuana

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The parents of a teen suicide victim -- presented to the national media at a White House press conference as having been driven to suicide by his marijuana use -- have revealed that their son actually tested negative for marijuana and positive for alcohol at the time of his death, and that he never tested positive for marijuana in a series of four other drug tests given during the months leading up to his suicide.

In a May 3 press conference sponsored by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Czar John Walters touted "growing and compelling evidence ... that regular marijuana use can contribute to depression, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia." One example presented to the media was Christopher Skaggs, whose parents spoke. Mrs. Skaggs described how her 15-year-old son was caught smoking marijuana in January 2004 and committed suicide seven months later. The national media were encouraged to report that his death resulted from use of "this very dangerous drug," and some media outlets did so.

But later that week, Mr. and Mrs. Skaggs appeared on the Peter Boyles Show on KHOW-AM in Denver. In response to Boyles' questions, they revealed that toxicology tests were run on Christopher while he was in the hospital, before he was pronounced dead. The tests found "nothing in his system but alcohol at that time," Mrs. Skaggs said. She further revealed that in the four separate drug tests done on the teen between January and July, no traces of marijuana were ever found, and that he was known to have been illicitly drinking at about the same time as he was caught smoking marijuana.

Boyles' interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Skaggs, John Walters, and ONDCP official David Murray are available at http://www.khow.com/hosts/peter-audio.html (the site requires a free registration in order to access the recordings).

"John Walters should be ashamed for exploiting this family's suffering to perpetrate a fraud on the media and the public," said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "The evidence connecting alcohol abuse to suicide and depression is overwhelming, but he simply ignored it in order to further his obsession with marijuana. No evidence has been presented that Christopher Skaggs ever smoked marijuana again after he was caught, but we know that he had alcohol in his system when he killed himself. Research has shown beyond any doubt that alcohol abuse can lead to depression, reckless and impulsive behavior, and suicide, so how could the drug czar not talk about this? What kind of man puts a grieving family through such agony to perpetrate a fraud?"

Fox noted that because THC, the marijuana component that produces the "high," is fat-soluble, it and its chemical byproducts can be detected by commonly used tests for two to three days after use, while most drugs (including alcohol) are cleared from the body within 12 hours. In regular marijuana users, detectable (though minute and non-psychoactive) traces of THC are stored in fatty tissues, meaning a regular marijuana smoker can test positive for up to 14 to 30 days after his or her last use.

Research connecting alcohol to depression and suicide is overwhelming. A review of 42 studies published last year in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that those suffering from alcohol use disorders were at 979% greater risk for completing suicide than those who were not alcohol abusers. A Columbia University study of nearly 1,500 teens published in the Winter 2004 issue of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior reported, "Alcohol abuse and dependence appeared to be strongly associated with suicide attempt," while no such relationship involving abuse of illicit drugs was found."The relationship between alcohol and suicidality may involve the disinhibitory effects of acute alcohol intoxication" as well as "the increase in vulnerability to depression," the researchers wrote.

"There are plenty of good reasons for kids not to smoke marijuana, but we don't help teens or their parents by lying to them," Fox said. "The drug czar's obsession with marijuana may actually be increasing young people's use of substances-like alcohol-that are far more dangerous. Mr. Walters owes the Skaggs family and the American people an apology."

With more than 17,000 members and 120,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. For more information, see http://www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.