The rise of medical marijuana and legalized recreational use has coincided with a rise in students who think the drug isn’t harmful, according to YOUTHTHINK coordinator Debby Jones.
According to 37 data points measured by the state through student surveys, five years ago 66 percent of 11th grade students believed marijuana is risky or harmful, but in 2012 that number was 49 percent.
“That tells us we’re up against it,” Jones said. “With medical marijuana, kids think that if it gets prescribed it must be OK. We are seeing a concentrated effort to promote it in music, on TV, in movies.”
She told the Wasco County Board of County Commissioners during a March 20 meeting that it was an area of concern for YOUTHTHINK, a nonprofit coalition that promotes healthy choices for teens. Most of the rest of the five-year comparison was an improvement, she said. Fewer teens and preteens in Wasco County are using alcohol, tobacco and drugs and students who are using are starting later.
Jones said YOUTHTHINK isn’t just a “warm fuzzy nonprofit.” It’s a good business model.
She said it costs $170 a day to keep a juvenile in the regional jail, and about 80 percent of youth detained in Wasco County last year “had some kind of substance abuse problem that contributed to their being detained.”
Oregon’s new Coordinated Care Organizations are trying to reduce costly emergency room visits to drive down the cost of healthcare, but Jones said every time a juvenile is drunk when picked up by the police they are automatically taken to the emergency room.
Drugs and alcohol are among the top three reasons students drop out of school, she said, costing school districts in the short term as they lose funding for the student, and costing society in the long run.
Jones shared YOUTHTHINK’s biennial plan, which stated that in the coming two years the coalition will specially target youth ages 10-14 and parents of youth ages 8-14.
She said when they added the younger students to the Healthy Teens survey, they discovered that eight percent of sixth graders said they had alcohol in the past 30 day but that number jumped to 28 percent in seventh grade. While 95 percent of sixth graders in 2012 had never tried marijuana, only 77 percent of eighth graders hadn’t.
She said numbers like those showed starting prevention programs in high school is too late, and parents often don’t realize they need to start talking to their child that soon.
“Our research has told us parents are usually two years behind on what their kids are doing,” Jones said.
In addition to illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco use by minors, the coalition’s biennial plan also states that YOUTHTHINK plans to focus on preventing prescription drug abuse, a fast-growing problem in the United States.