Pubdate: Mon, 04 Oct 2010
Source: Times Record (ME)
Copyright: 2010 Times Record Inc., ASC Inc
Author: Seth Koenig


Study Results Alarm Local Substance Abuse Counselors

BATH - Area health officials report that Sagadahoc County teenagers
are now statistically more likely to smoke marijuana than cigarettes.
The change in substance abuse trends, counselors say, indicates a
troubling impression among young people that pot is safe.

According to the latest results of the biannual Maine Integrated Youth
Health Survey, which was conducted last fall statewide, 21 percent of
high school-aged respondents from Sagadahoc County admitted to smoking
marijuana during the previous 30 days.

That figure eclipses the 18 percent of county teens who acknowledged
having smoked cigarettes during the same time period.

Alcohol remained the most used illegal substance for area teenagers,
with 34 percent saying they consumed at least one drink during the
previous 30 days. But Melissa Fochesato, substance abuse prevention
coordinator for Mid Coast Hospital, said the uptick in marijuana
consumption concerns her because it indicates that teens are becoming
less aware of the drug's harm.

"The good news in this is that we've done a very good job in educating
kids about the dangers of tobacco," Fochesato told The Times Record on
Friday. "When we go out to schools, kids can list all the chemicals in
cigarettes and they understand that tobacco companies are trying to
mislead them with advertising.

"But when we ask them if there's danger in smoking marijuana
regularly, 37 percent say, 'No, there's no risk in smoking marijuana
regularly,'" she continued. "(More than) half say there's no risk in
occasional use."

The local Communities Against Substance Abuse (CASA) coalition, of
which Fochesato is a member, plans to meet Wednesday to discuss the
survey results and ways to combat increasing teen marijuana use in the
area. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. at the Mid Coast
Senior Health Center on Baribeau Drive in Brunswick.

The coalition members include teachers, parents, children, law
enforcement officials and other community volunteers.

The Sagadahoc County numbers contribute to statewide figures
indicating that Maine is one of the top marijuana-using states in the

A CASA announcement released late last week reports that a study done
by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health ranks Maine in the top
six states for past-month marijuana use among all age groups.

Fochesato said that better educating teenagers about the dangers of
pot use should be a local priority.

"Education about the effects of marijuana is critical," agreed Guy
Cousins, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, in a
statement. "Marijuana affects alertness, concentration and reaction
time, many of the skills required for learning, safe driving and other
life tasks."

The CASA announcement states that marijuana is three times more likely
to lead to dependence among adolescents than it is for adults. It goes
on to cite a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study
claiming that more young people annually enter into substance abuse
treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for
all other illicit drugs combined.

"We know that youth who use marijuana are more likely to engage in
risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, getting in trouble with the law
and other dangerous behaviors which can be change their lives
forever," said Geno Ring, a local substance abuse counselor and CASA
coalition member, in a statement.

Fochesato told The Times Record that the recent legalization of
dispensaries for medical marijuana has likely helped perpetuate the
notion among teens that the drug is safe to use.

"They think, 'Well, if it's medicinal, it must be OK,'" she said. "We
have to be careful how we talk about these things. We have to make
sure kids know it's only 'medical' if a doctor prescribes it."

Fochesato said that like other prescription drugs, marijuana can be
dangerous if used by people to whom it isn't prescribed.

"It's the second drug of choice after alcohol," she said in a
statement, recalling the Sagadahoc County statistics. "Many students
believe there is little risk in using marijuana, and that's just not

To attend the Wednesday CASA coalition meeting or to get more details,
call Fochesato at 373-6957.  
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D