The May 2 Eagle article, "Teens using pot more often," paints a picture that is mirrored in our local Berkshire County data. The majority of Berkshire County high school students are surveyed about their substance use every two years in collaboration with the Pittsfield Prevention Partner ship (PPP), a community coalition focused on reducing youth substance use. According to 2011 results from the Preven tion Needs Assessment Survey, students self-reported that their marijuana use, both within the past 30 days and over the course of the individual student’s lifetime, increased from 2009 to 2011 among eighth, 10th and 12th graders in Berkshire County.
The article reported that some parents may wonder what the big deal is, -- "it’s just a little weed." I want to share with parents in our community that marijuana use is a big deal and there are significant risks to safety and health.
In Massachusetts, more young people enter treatment for marijuana use than for all other illicit drugs combined. "According to the National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA), long-term marijuana abuse can lead to addiction; that is, compulsive drug seeking and abuse, despite the known harmful effects upon functioning in the context of family, school, work and recreational activities. Estimates from research suggest that about 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana; this number increases among those who start young (to about 17 percent) and among daily users (25-50 percent)."
NIDA also reports that marijuana affects heart and respiratory function and negatively affects motivation, memory and learning. This alone negatively impacts students at the age when developing aspirations and readying themselves for college and careers in most critical. Further, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that nearly half of impaired drivers who were not using alcohol tested positive for marijuana.
What can parents do? We know that young people are less likely to abuse substances if they receive frequent, clear messages from their parents that using substances is harmful and direct statements that we expect them not to use. We owe it to our kids to express that we want them to reach their full potential and that substance use interferes. As we approach prom and graduation season, parents have another opportunity to talk to their teens about the consequences of using marijuana, as well as alcohol and other substances.
Make sure they know that you think it’s a big deal. Research tells us that even though they may look like they are not listening to you, that they are. You are the most powerful prevention tool that your child has.
For more information about teen substance use prevention, or to find out how to get involved with community prevention efforts, please visit the PPP website: www.pittsfieldpreventionpartnership.org.
The writer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker; Chair, Pittsfield Prevention Partnership Unit Leader for School Psychologists and Adjustment Counselors, Pittsfield Public Schools.