Statistics Aren’t Certainties, Switching Drugs Isn’t Sobering Up

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

You can’t believe everything you read – even when that text is full of what appears to be realistic statistics presented as fact. I was reminded of this by an article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal titled, “Wall Street Drug Use: Employees Giving Up Cocaine for Pot and Pills.”

Based on the headline, I expected a story about the current drug use trends among Manhattan’s high-powered businesspeople. Yet the article opened by asserting that “the credit crisis appears to have sobered up Wall Street in more ways than one.” Next, it declared that marijuana use on Wall Street jumped from 64 to 80 percent between 2007 and 2009. However, this statistic was based on failed drug tests for new hires—essentially, people who did not end up working on Wall Street.  On the other hand, the article included a quote from Intervention Specialists president Brad Lamm, who mentioned that Wall Street substance abuse is on the rise, and that he notices “a lot of crack and coke.”

Giving up coke? Getting sober? More marijuana? A lot of crack? Do we know what is actually happening with substance abuse on Wall Street today? The Journal doesn’t have a straight answer, so they seem content to mash together a few opinions and “statistics” and present them as truth.

When discussing drug use among Manhattan residents, why does the article’s writer, Kyle Stock, reference a 2001 survey as if it were an accurate portrayal of 2010? Why does he also mention marijuana data from 2007 and 2009 only – without examining 2008’s numbers, or those of earlier years?  Two points do not make a trend, and the Journal knows better.

Another concern of mine is the article’s reliance on data gleaned from new-hire drug tests, which are hardly representative of substance abuse on Wall Street as a whole. For many companies, you interview, you take a drug test, and if it’s negative, you’re hired. If illicit substances are present in your urine, you’re not hired. It’s as simple as that. The issue here is that these are not random drug tests. The individuals being tested are aware and prepared, and they are not likely to show up to the test high or intoxicated. An additional wrench in the process is the fact that many drugs – like ecstasy, cocaine, and speed – leave the body after a few days, whereas marijuana can remain in urine for 30 or even 60 days. Where does this leave the guy who smoked pot a month ago? Not hired. And last week’s speed user? Hired.

As a researcher in the field of substance abuse treatment, I’ve learned that nothing in the world of addiction is ever as simple as it seems. I am disappointed that the Wall Street Journal, and the media in general, would present a hodgepodge of irrelevant statistics and contradictory opinions in order to support their own theory.

The most irresponsible aspect of this kind of reporting is the effect it could have on Wall Street substance abusers and their families – namely, lulling them into complacency by tossing around information and reassuring them that the stock exchange has indeed “sobered up.” This speculative reassurance is dangerous because drug users – regardless of their job, their salary, or their drug of choice – are all at risk. Illicit drug use is not a job perk, and a substance that revs someone up or relaxes them today may have permanent effects in the future. Although Wall Street may be turning a blind eye to substance abuse – and the Wall Street Journal may be perpetuating misinformation – it is the responsibility of individuals to look beyond what others think and to get the help they need.

Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House

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  • The Wall Street Journal is trying hard to sell newspapers. The author should do his/her analyzing and data collecting before he/she puts statistics in the newspaper. Especially when they are messing with peoples lives. It would be interesting to get real research. Thank you Deni!!!

  • Someone writing for the Journal has no investment in disclosing the truth. Logic would indicate that they do not want to step on toes since they want to obtain stories and not take the chance of missing out because they offended someone. Good piece Deni, you exhibited great critical thinking about the ‘research model’.