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As marijuana laws change, more teens think drugs are safe

Utah police, addiction experts fear shift in attitudes

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8 2014 5:35 p.m. MST

"There's some pretty critical developmental periods for brain growth and development and adolescence happens to be one of them. So whenever you're interrupting that developmental process or delaying that developmental process with substance use of any kind, you see developmental delays. And that can be psycho-emotional delays, educational delays that are tacked on to memory and development and higher level development and that kind of thing," she said.

Most of the patients who receive treatment at Odyssey House started using drugs when they were in their teens, Zidow said, and practically all of them have smoked marijuana at some point.

"The earlier you start using, the more likely you are to: 1) become addicted. And 2) require significant periods of treatment later in life," she said.

Burbank said he doesn't want marijuana to become a drug that, like alcohol, becomes socially acceptable once a teenager becomes an adult.

"Where do you draw the line? If you're under 18 you can't use it? If you're over 18 it's OK? If you're a cop, if you're a pirate, if you're a doctor?" He asked. How many hours before you begin work can you use it?

"I mean, if you're a cop, do you say, 'We think you can smoke a joint two hours before you come on shift and then decide whether or not you're going to shoot somebody?' So as you play this out long term, it becomes ridiculous and very unmanageable and very risky the message we're sending to young people," the chief said.

"Even if marijuana were legal, I would not want my kids using it. Nor would I use it," Burbank said.

Deterring use

The key to deterring marijuana use among teens, experts say, is for parents to have frank talks with their children.

"It's not the school's responsibility, it's not the state's, it's the parents' responsibility to educate their kids about things. And we don't do a good job talking to kids. You need to be honest. You need to tell them what it does," Burbank said.

He also encouraged parents to be honest with their children, whether they're talking about marijuana, Oxycontin, alcohol or even steroids. The fact is, these drugs all do what one would expect, Burbank said. But what juveniles have to understand are the side-effects and consequences that come with their use.

"Whether it's legal or not, you still get to make that choice. A decision to violate the law in order to obtain a legal substance — whether it's pills, alcohol or anything else — is still a conscious choice you get to make. And if that's what you choose to lead your life, you just need to know the risk associated with it. And if you go into that decision thinking there's no risk, then that's a foolish decision," he said.

"We need to counteract that as much as we can with parents talking to their kids and with teachers talking to the students," Teerlink added. "And we as police officers, anytime we can talk to the kids and say, 'Hey, whatever you're hearing, whatever you think you're hearing, this is not good for you. This has potential to destroy your future.'"

Other drugs

Both Burbank and Zidow also fear the use of marijuana leads to other drugs. For example, when a person is sober, they might not take an unprescribed Oxycontin pill.

"But then when you're high on pot, doing Oxy sounds like a good option," Zidow said.

Other juveniles get hooked on prescription pills because they see their parents use them.

"In our community we have a lot of strong messaging about smoking," she said. Teens might think: "'But my mom has this leftover Percocet when she had surgery this year,' and the process of taking a pill seems to be a lot more socially acceptable."

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported in its January newsletter that prescription medications remain a "significant part of the teen drug problem."

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