Pubdate: Wed, 10 Sep 2003
Source: North County Times (CA)
Contact:  2003 North County Times
Author: Jo Moreland, Staff Writer 
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Youth)


SAN DIEGO -- The neatly dressed young man quietly sitting next to experts
Wednesday didn't look like a poster boy for marijuana abuse.

However, 18-year-old Juan Yanez of Encinitas earned his credentials to be a
panelist at the noon "Marijuana and Kids" media briefing at the San Diego
County Administration Center. 

At one point before he overdosed and went into rehabilitation, the soft-spoken
Yanez said, he hung out with gang members and sold drugs to pay for his own
drug abuse.

"Marijuana is a problem," he said, drawing smiles for his understatement.

Robert Denniston, deputy director of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media
Campaign, led the 1 1/2-hour session which involved local medical, scientific
and treatment experts in the attempt to reduce and prevent youthful drug abuse.

The picture they verbally drew was simple -- more young people are using more
potent marijuana at an earlier age and getting into more trouble.

Not every marijuana user becomes addicted, panelists said, but it is a serious
drug with serious consequences, including use of alcohol and other drugs that
can lead to violence and crime.

"Marijuana's pretty much been let off the hook for a long time," Denniston said
in an interview. "People wink at it -- 'It's just marijuana.'"

Of young people who use drugs, said Denniston, 60 percent use just marijuana.

"We've got twice as many young people using at the eighth grade level than a
decade ago," the federal official said.

Nearly 42 percent of high school students surveyed in this county have tried
marijuana at least once, and 13.5 percent of the students who tried it did so
before age 13, said panelist Linda Bridgeman Smith, planning manager for the
county's Alcohol and Drug Services.

When he was in the sixth grade, Yanez said, curiosity prompted him to try
marijuana at a friend's home.

"We rolled a joint and smoked it," he said. "It became a habit."

It is important for parents to talk to their children specifically about
marijuana abuse at a very early age, panelists said, and parents should know
where their children are and who they're with, particularly after school.

His mother worked and his dad wasn't around, Yanez said.

Studies show that marijuana effects can be reversed when the drug abuse stops,
but children who smoke pot are affected socially, academically and physically,
said Dr. Igor Koutsenok, associate director of UCSD's Department of Psychiatry,
Addiction Training Center.

"I was skipping school a lot," Yanez said. "My grades were going down."

Then he lost a soccer scholarship and his family didn't want him around because
of his drug problems, which also included crystal methamphetamine and heroin,
said the teen.

Close to 80 percent of the drug abusers at the Phoenix House of San Diego rehab
center use marijuana in addition to other drugs, said Elizabeth Urquehart, the
center's director of adolescent services.

When he got into a fight at school, said Yanez, authorities found crystal meth
and marijuana on him. He went into drug rehab, flunked a drug test and
overdosed, he said, before realizing things had to change.

Almost 500 of the young people on probation in the county are required to get
drug treatment, said Thomas Alexander, manager of the county Probation
Department's juvenile substance abuse programs. He said 85 percent of juvenile
offenders have a substance abuse problem.

Now sober, Yanez said he is going to school, has a job and is getting in shape
for soccer. He doesn't hang out with his former friends and his family life is
better, he said.

"There's more honesty, more trust," said Yanez. "I don't have to hide anything
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