Dervla Lacy: Our drug problem | SteamboatToday.com

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Dervla Lacy: Our drug problem

The problem of youth marijuana use is pervasive within our state, nation and community. According to a 2009 national survey, more than 104 million Americans older than age 12 had tried marijuana at least once, and almost 17 million had used the drug in the month before the survey. Locally, youth increasingly are using marijuana as evidenced by recent survey data. In fact, Routt County's youth marijuana use exceeds national and state averages. In 2010, 28 percent of Routt County sixth- through 12th-graders reported using marijuana, and 17 percent of sixth- through 12th-graders reported using marijuana in the preceding 30 days. This is opposed to national figures of 24.5 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders using marijuana at some point in ther lives, and 14.8 percent of those same students using it in the preceding 30 days.

Figures are even higher when considering data reported from Steamboat Springs youths. Forty-seven percent of Steamboat Springs High School students and 56 percent of 11th-graders report lifetime use of marijuana, as opposed to a 46 percent of ninth- through 12th-graders across the state and 49 percent of 11th-graders. Additionally, 30 percent of Steamboat Springs High School students report using marijuana within the past 30 days, compared to an average of 26.5 percent of high school students within the state.

These figures are alarming and eye-opening. It is clear from our local state and national statistics that youth marijuana use is a crucial problem within our society.

Youth marijuana use can lead to long-term issues with brain and body development, even more so than the harmful effects of marijuana use for adults. In addition to public health concerns with this type of substance abuse, research shows that marijuana use, particularly chronic use among youths, can lead to increased risk of mental illness, including increased rates of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and suicide attempts. For instance, weekly or more frequent use of marijuana can double a teen's risk of depression and anxiety. Age of first use and chronic marijuana use among young people have also proven to be important risk factors for mental illnesses, including addiction.

For these reasons, youth-serving, law enforcement, school, and public and mental health professionals have growing concerns about youth marijuana use. Marijuana use, particularly among youths, is extremely harmful and is becoming an increasing problem within our community, state and nation. As the leading source of prevention efforts in our region, Grand Futures Prevention Coalition seeks to create and support positive, healthy lifestyle choices as alternatives to substance abuse. Our organization urges you to speak to youths about the harms related to marijuana use this fall. Parents are the most powerful influence on their children when it comes to drugs, and children who learn about the risks of marijuana and other illicit drugs from their parents are far less likely to use drugs.

Dervla Lacy

Managing director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition