False perceptions about marijuana are putting our children at risk
Today, more than 3,000 American youths will try marijuana for the first time. Will a young person you care about be one of them? From 1991 to 2001, the number of eighth-graders who used the drug doubled from one in 10 to one in five. And each year, more youths enter treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other illicit drugs combined. Despite these alarming facts, many communities aren't taking marijuana seriously.
Recently, I had the privilege to attend the annual Community Anti-Drug Coalitions Conference in Washington, DC. The conference hosted 1,600 people from coalitions around the country to discuss successes and challenges related to substance abuse prevention efforts. Much of the statistical data was encouraging and reflected the trend in drug use among young people was decreasing. However, use levels are still unacceptably high.
John Walters, director of the Office of National Control Policy, commented during a speech at the conference, " The risks associated with marijuana have been trivialized, and our kids are getting the wrong message. It is time to dispel the myths about marijuana." Mr. Walters went on to say, "The facts are compelling, but we must arm parents, teachers, community leaders and our children with the truth. Outdated and false perceptions about the drug are putting today's kids at risk."
There are efforts around the country to legalize marijuana; these efforts are trivializing and are promoting misconceptions about marijuana, such as marijuana is harmless. Not so. Marijuana is more potent than ever; the THC level in today's marijuana is seven times stronger than it was 30 years ago. This can lead to a host of significant physical, social, learning and behavioral problems at a crucial time in the lives of young people.
Other myths: You can't get addicted to marijuana. Sixty percent of teens currently in drug treatment have a primary marijuana diagnosis. Marijuana isn't as popular among youths today as other newer drugs like Ecstasy. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.
The final myth: There is not much parents or anyone else can do to stop youths from experimenting. Parents are the most powerful influence on their children when it comes to drugs. Two-thirds of youths ages 13 to 17 say losing their parents' respect is one of the main reasons they don't smoke marijuana or use other drugs.
To have an effect on marijuana use by young people in our community, caring adults need to understand that parents who perceive little risk associated with marijuana use have children with similar beliefs. Unfortunately, many parents are ambivalent about marijuana, considering it to be relatively risk-free, or neglect to refer to marijuana use when talking to their children about drugs. They are more concerned about so-called "hard" drugs and the dramatic increase in use of Ecstasy and other club drugs. If you can relate to any of these beliefs, I urge you to get more information on the subject because the young person in your life could be one of the 3,000 trying marijuana for the first time today.
Informational guides are available by calling your local anti-drug coalition, the New Bedford Prevention Partnership at (508) 979-1580.
Carl J. Alves
New Bedford Prevention Partnership
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