Pubdate: Sat, 24 Jan 2015
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Gene Johnson, Associated Press


SEATTLE (AP) - Marijuana-related calls to poison control centers in 
Washington and Colorado have spiked since the states began allowing 
legal sales last year, with an especially troubling increase in calls 
concerning young children.

But it's not clear how much of the increase might be related to more 
people using marijuana, as opposed to people feeling more comfortable 
to report their problems now that the drug is legal for adults over 21.

New year-end data being presented to Colorado's Legislature next week 
show that the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center received 151 
calls for marijuana exposure last year, the first year of retail 
recreational pot sales. That was up from 88 calls in 2013 and 61 in 
2012, the year voters legalized pot.

Calls to the Washington Poison Center for marijuana exposures jumped 
by more than half, from 158 in 2013 to 246 last year.

Public health experts say they are especially concerned about young 
children accidentally eating marijuana edibles. Calls involving 
children nearly doubled in both states: to 48 in Washington involving 
children 12 or younger, and to 45 in Colorado involving children 8 or younger.

"There's a bit of a relaxed attitude that this is safe because it's a 
natural plant, or derived from a natural plant," Dr. Alex Garrard, 
clinical managing director of the Washington Poison Center. "But this 
is still a drug. You wouldn't leave Oxycontin lying around on a 
countertop with kids around, or at least you shouldn't."

Around half of Washington's calls last year involved hospital visits, 
with most of the patients being evaluated and released from an 
emergency room, Garrard said. Ten people were admitted to intensive 
care units - half of them younger than 20.

Children who wind up going to the hospital for marijuana exposure can 
find themselves subject to blood tests or spinal taps, Garrard said, 
because if they seem lethargic and parents don't realize they got 
into marijuana, doctors might first check for meningitis or other 
serious conditions.

Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's 
Hospital, said her facility has had cases where young children needed 
to be intubated because they were having trouble breathing after 
consuming marijuana - a terrifically scary experience for parents.

Pot-related calls to Washington's poison center began rising steadily 
several years ago as medical marijuana dispensaries started 
proliferating in the state. In 2006, there were just 47 calls. That 
rose to 150 in 2010 and 162 before actually dropping by a few calls 
in 2013, a year in which adults could use marijuana but before legal 
recreational sales had started.

Calls about exposure to marijuana combined with other drugs spiked in 
Colorado, too. There were 70 such calls last year, up from 39 calls 
in 2013 and 49 calls in 2012.

Both states saw increases in calls across all age groups. Colorado's 
biggest increase was among adults over 25 - from 40 in 2013 to 102 
calls last year. Washington had a big jump in calls concerning teens, 
from 40 in 2013 to 61 last year.

Many of the products involved in Washington's exposure cases are 
found at the state's unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries, but 
not licensed recreational shops, which are barred from selling 
marijuana gummy bears or other items that might appeal to children, 
Garrard said. Medical dispensaries far outnumber legal stores across the state.

Some especially potent marijuana products - such as hash oil - have 
become more popular in recent years, which could also factor into the 
increased calls to poison control centers.

The Washington Legislature is working now on proposals for reining in 
the medical marijuana industry - and limiting what they can sell. 
Both states have taken steps to try to keep marijuana products away 
from children, such as requiring child-resistant packaging in licensed stores.

In Denver, authorities charged a couple with child abuse last month, 
saying their 3-year-old daughter tested positive for marijuana. The 
couple brought the girl to a hospital after she became sick.

Ben Reagan, a medical marijuana advocate with The Center for 
Palliative Care in Seattle, said at a recent conference that he had 
long dealt with parents whose children accidentally got into 
marijuana. It used to be less likely that they would call an official 
entity for help, he said.

"Those things have been occurring this whole time," Reagan said. 
"What you now have is an atmosphere where people are much more 
comfortable going to the emergency room."

"Before, you'd just look at your buddy and say, 'Sorry, dude. You're 
going to have to deal with it all night,' "he added. "'We're not 
calling nobody."'

Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed from Denver.
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