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Drug hospitalizations and ER visits

Source: Brenda Rooney, PhD, epidemiologist at Gundersen Health System

One of the United States’ top experts on the opioid and prescription drug crisis and marijuana’s effects on the teenage brain will present research pointing toward increasing peril during two talks in La Crosse Monday.

“We are really threading the needle to a very dangerous point for our country,” said Bertha Madras, a psychobiology professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Bertha Madras


“People are getting misinformation, and that’s the tragedy,” Madras said during a phone interview Thursday, referring not only to illicit use but also legalized marijuana.

The 75-year-old Madras, whose resume includes her earliest research on LSD in the early 1960s, as well as being one of six members of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, will address the biology of marijuana, the latest cannabis research, including what she says is emerging evidence that ballooning marijuana use is setting up users to fall prey to opiate abuse.

Madras’ research focuses on neurobiology, imaging and medications development, with 19 U.S. and 27 international patents for neuropsychiatric disorders.

Judi Zabel, health educator and anti-smoking advocate


“She has a message that every parent, teacher, medical provider and interested adults would benefit from hearing in very understandable language,” said coalition member Judi Zabel, a health educator at the La Crosse County Health Department.

Madras’ presentations come on the heels of the 2017 Perception of Harm survey, which found that 61 percent of La Crosse County teenagers believe that marijuana is safe and that the risk associated with using it is very low.

By contrast, Madras said, “Kids who use marijuana are 10 times more likely to go on to other drugs. The three big factors (leading to other drugs) are tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

“Kids who don’t use any of those are much less likely” to advance to more potent drugs, she said.

This also is a time when hospitalizations and/or emergency room appearances involving cannabis are rising, leaping 20 percent for La Crosse County residents from 2016 to 2017, according to research compiled by Brenda Rooney, an epidemiologist at Gundersen.

Such incidents rose from 298 in 2016 to 358 in 2017, according to Rooney’s research, which also found that hospitalizations and/or emergency room visits in which opioids were involved dropped 17 percent, from 346 in 2016 to 288 in 2017.

Marijuana’s potency has changed drastically from the psychedelic era of the 1960s when marijuana was available largely in the leafy form for smoking, and it was disguised, poorly, with names such as Marijane and the reputed subliminal messaging in Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

The average potency of THC, the hallucinogenic chemical that affects the brain, used to be 1 percent to 3 percent, Madras said. Now, many plants have concentrations of the chemical, which has the formal name of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent, she said.

What’s more, marijuana is available in varying forms, including liquids that can be vaped and included in candy, cookies and beverages, among others.

Marijuana is addictive, and the risk of addiction increases if use starts in adolescence, Zabel said, adding that the 1-in-11 chance of becoming addicted increases to 1 in 6 for people whose use begins in their teens.

“Dr. Madras has a message that every parent, teacher, medical provider and interested adults would benefit from hearing in very understandable language,” Zabel said.

Sponsoring her presentation from noon to 1 p.m. Monday at Gundersen Health System, tailored for medical providers, and her public address from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Viterbo University’s School of Nursing, are the La Crosse County Prevention Network, Gundersen Medical Foundation and the Monroe County Safe Community Coalition.

For more information, contact Zabel at or 608-785-9855.



Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(13) comments

El Duderino

I don’t think there’s a single comment on here supports the outdated crusade against cannabis. Zero.

I definitely think it’s ridiculous that it remains illegal, but I also don’t think we should look at it as some potential great tax source. It could be, sure, but it shouldn’t be.

Tax the booze-bags more, their drug causes tremendous harm to our communities vs. cannabis. Cannabis should be taxed at 5.5, like booze.


saying that mary jane leads to more drug use is problematic. Did anyone study drug addicts and see if they ever drank milk as a kid? Maybe milk is the culprit. Its safe to say almost all drug addicts consumed milk at some time in their lives. Is there a link? Well the numbers would say so, but numbers only go so far. Since alcohol and tobacco are legal, it would make sense to make mary jane legal too, with some restrictions like many other states have done. That would take the criminal element out of it, which makes it more enticing to teenagers. And we wouldn't have our jails filled to capacity all the time saving tax money. Last I heard is Colorado is bringing in lots of revenue from their legalizing mary jane. Money that can be spent on education, rehabilitation, natural resources etc, instead of giving it away to corporate welfare programs.

El Duderino

Buggs is right, US troops have been guarding Afghani poppy fields for many years.

Buggs Raplin

I'm no fan of the Taliban, but they did eradicate the poppies. All that changed with our involvement; the poppy fields bloomed again, and heroin was on its way to the USA thanks to the CIA.


From the Tribunes arrest records, would appear that pot isn't the problem it's meth and heroin. City has become a meth haven.

Buggs Raplin

And where is that heroin coming from? Likely Afghanistan transferred here by the CIA.

El Duderino

Refer Madness BS.


Carl Carlson

All substances are bad for developing brains, shocking I know. Alcohol is THE gateway drug! Propaganda is all it is, marijuana states see reductions in opioid use. Ignorant nonsense.


I'm with Buggs. tax & tariff this "highly sought after search & search again, that tasty herb#medicalmedicine


I'm not buying it. The chart shows a huge number of people seeking treatment in emergency rooms or being hospitalized for marijuana use. Seriously? Can the Tribune find a SINGLE person who was treated in a medical facility for marijuana?


Beware the Reefer Madness! First the muggles, then illicit sex, then the deadly opioids! Be afraid. We need God back in the schools and spankings for all.


I don't think any reasonable person believes marijuana is good for kids/teens. We know any drug use (cigs, alcohol/beer, prescription drugs, etc.) by kids/teens is dangerous and should be restricted. Yet cigs and alcohol remain legal (and companies make big profits from their production and sale while lobbying for their legality). Cigs and beer/booze are also the most commonly available drug (second is likely opioids/painkillers)...then instead of focusing on marijuana alone and creating unnecessary fear/anxiety, focus on these more toxic/dangerous drugs to a greater extent. Marijuana does not kill...unlike cigs, alcohol and opioids.

Buggs Raplin

Legalize it. If alcohol can be legal, so can marijuana.

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