Pubdate: Tue, 13 Mar 2012
Source: Taunton Daily Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2012 Taunton Daily Gazette
Author: Stephen Wallace, Students Against Destructive Decisions
Note: Stephen Wallace is a senior advisor for policy, research, and education at SADD.


New data from SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and 
Liberty Mutual Insurance reveal that more young people are combining 
marijuana and driving, placing themselves - and often their friends - at risk.
Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise given that the University of 
Michigan's recent Monitoring the Future study pointed out that 
marijuana use among eighth- to-12th graders rose in 2011 for the 
fourth straight year (as compared to substantial declines in the 
preceding decade) and that daily use of the drug among 12th graders is 
at a thirty year high.
But what may come as a surprise is that the number of teens who report 
driving under the influence of marijuana (19 percent) has surpassed 
those reporting driving under the influence of alcohol (13 percent).
Oddly, many teens don't see that as a problem.
Hazy logic
Indeed, more than one-third (36 percent) of teens who have driven 
after using marijuana say the drug presents no distraction to their 
driving. Also alarming, among the teens who say they have driven after 
drinking, 19 percent of them believe alcohol use is not distracting.
Hazy logic or wishful thinking?
Regardless, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy 
(ONDCP) notes that marijuana use affects alertness, concentration, 
perception, coordination, and reaction time - all needed for the safe 
operation of a motor vehicle.
ONDCP points to roadside study of reckless drivers in Tennessee that 
found that 33 percent of all subjects who were not under the influence 
of alcohol and who were tested for drugs at the scene of their arrest 
tested positive for marijuana.
Proof in point.
Beyond driving
But weed and cars are only part of the story. Among all Americans 
twelve and older who abuse or are dependent on an illegal drug, 60 
percent abuse or are dependent on marijuana, according to Dr. Robert 
DuPont of the Institute for Behavior and Health and Former 
Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Peter B. 
Bensinger, in a letter published in the New York Times. Nationally, 
they say, admissions for primary marijuana use to state-financed 
treatment have increased by 31 percent from 1998 to 2008 (the most 
recent year for which data are available).
In addition, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 
a number of studies have shown an association between chronic 
marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and 
schizophrenia. And some of these studies have shown age at first use 
to be an important risk factor, where early use is a marker of 
increased vulnerability to later problems.
NIDA also reports that chronic marijuana use, especially in a very 
young person, may also be a marker of risk for mental illnesses - 
including addiction - stemming from genetic or environmental 
vulnerabilities, such as early exposure to stress or violence.
Sensible solutions
When it comes to impaired driving by youth, common sense suggests that 
if teens aren't engaged in illegal behavior in the first place, they 
won't be driving under the influence in the second.
Yet beyond issues of zero tolerance lies an enduring truth ... young 
people themselves often hold the key to keeping their friends safe and 
alive. And where driving is concerned, that means when they see 
something they need to speak up to protect themselves and their friends.
Indeed, the SADD/Liberty Mutual study reveals that friends do play a 
significant role, as most teen drivers say they would stop driving 
under the influence of marijuana (90 percent) or alcohol (94 percent) 
if asked by their passengers.
Yet even teen passengers are seemingly less concerned about riding in 
a car with a driver who has used marijuana than with one who has used 
alcohol. While a significant majority (87 percent) say they would 
speak up and ask the driver to refrain from getting behind the wheel 
after drinking, only 72 percent of them report they would do the same 
for a driver who has used marijuana.
Thirty years ago, students at Wayland High School responded to the 
impaired driving crash deaths of two classmates just days apart by 
forming a club to protect one another. They called it SADD (Students 
Against Driving Drunk, now Students Against Destructive Decisions), 
sparking a landslide of public attention aimed at the problem of 
impaired driving and saving many thousands of young lives.
Their model of peer-to-peer education and intervention is not dated; 
it stands today as a poignant reminder of what can be accomplished 
when we empower our children to say something.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.