- Category: Testimonies and Speeches
- Published: 25 October 2013
Published: October 25, 2013 11:30 PM
WARWICK — At a time when more states are legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, marijuana use among the nation’s youth is rising, a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction said at a conference Friday.
In a presentation entitled, “Not a Harmless Drug: Prevention and Treatment of Marijuana Addiction,” Kevin P. Hill, an addiction psychiatrist at McLeanHospital in Belmont, Mass., and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, described what he says is a clear correlation between marijuana legalization and its use among teenagers.
Unlike alcohol use, which society generally recognizes can be dangerous, Hill said, “Many [people] feel that marijuana is harmless, despite science that shows otherwise.”
About 16 percent of youths and 9 percent of adults who use marijuana become addicted, Hill said, “but for those people it becomes very addictive.”
The presentation was part of a conference on teens, marijuana and prescription drugs that drew about 200 people — including state health officials, mental health workers and others — to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Warwick.
The event was sponsored by the Rhode Island Student Assistance Services, a nonprofit that provides school and community-based substance abuse and intervention services.
In a brief phone interview after the presentation, Hill said his findings are supported by a 2012 national survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health, that showed “continued high use of marijuana” among 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders, combined with a drop in perceptions about its potential harms. Marijuana use among teens has been rising since 2008, the study reported.
Hill pointed to a chart with data from the federal government’s 2009-2010 National Survey of Drug Use and Health that showed states with medical marijuana laws tended to have higher-than-average rates of marijuana use among people ages 12 to 17 and 18 to 25.
The chart was prepared by Educating Voices Inc., a nonprofit “founded to proactively support education and communication of the dangers of marijuana and other drugs,” according to its website.
But it’s unclear how the survey’s findings could be related to any changes in Rhode Island’s marijuana laws. Rhode Island has had a medical marijuana law since 2006, but the first dispensaries did not open until this year. And it wasn’t until last April that Rhode Island became the 15th state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, who sponsored the legislation to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and who attended the conference, said that making marijuana illegal “has had no impact on its access.”
By making marijuana illegal, Miller told Hill after his presentation, it increases the risk that people in inner cities trying to buy marijuana are going to “get shot and put in jail.”
Craig Stenning, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, said during the conference’s opening remarks that a survey of first-time marijuana use among Rhode Islanders before age 16 showed a decline to 6 percent in 2011, compared with 13 percent in 2001.
The conference also included a presentation about the rise in prescription drug abuse, particularly among painkillers or opioids. Dr. Michael A. Fiori, an adult psychiatrist at Butler Hospital, said that the common misconception about prescription drugs is that they’re “safer than illegal drugs.”
“Anyone who takes opiates long-term will develop tolerance to the desired effects and a physical dependence,” Fiori said. But their likelihood of becoming addicted, he said, depends on a variety of factors, including age, genetics and exposure to drug abuse. A family history of addiction, psychiatric disorders and sexual abuse during pre-teen years, he said, are all “risk factors” for addiction.
Though more is now known about how addiction hijacks the brain’s frontal lobe, which regulates impulses, Fiori said, long-term effects of drug abuse on adolescents is not as well researched.