by Tami Jackson
- The Capitol Hill Times -
According to a 2012 survey, Garfield ranks among the top high schools in the nation for the number of teens drinking and using marijuana. Officials worry that those numbers are getting worse, and part of their concern surrounds vaporizer pens, or “vapes,” which function similar to electronic cigarettes but are made for vaporizing liquid marijuana – or, specifically, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.
Every couple of years, The Washington State Healthy Use Survey goes out to all public schools statewide. There are three components to the survey: parents schools, and youth. For the latter, students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 are queried to determine how much alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and prescription drugs teens use in their respective neighborhoods.
Officials like Central Seattle Drug Free Communities Coalition Chair Melanie Boehm say that it’s not yet known whether the new legislation that legalized recreational marijuana for adults will impact how many teens consume pot. For that data, she looks forward to October 2014 when the next survey comes out.
From the surveys filled out by school staff, Boehm observed that educators were not trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol use in their students. She hopes that taxes collected from the new cannabis legislation will help fund this sort of parent and teacher training.
Boehm said that most teachers had never seen a vaporizer pen, which many teens now use in lieu of a marijuana joint or bong. Because adults don’t know what one looks like, students have told Boem that the vapes are easy to use and easy to hide. On first glance, a vaporizer pen can easily be mistaken for a tube of mascara or ordinary ink pen.
Most brands of vaporizer pens don’t emit smoke and, according to Inga Manskopf, a prevention specialist and Drug Free Communities Coordinator at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and some pens can even be used to smoke dry marijuana plant material.
Manskof said that beyond vapes more teens are also eating marijuana-laced foods.
Yet smoking still happens. Students have told Boem that their parents are smoking marijuana and when an adult puts out a joint in an ashtray, youth are quick to collect the stubs for their own use.
Boehm and Manscopf said that since the state laws for marijuana are so new, there are no current guidelines that limit dosages of the drug. So the amount of THC or drug additives that young people consume are not standardized. Unwittingly, students may consume marijuana in great excess.
Boehm said that it’s important for the community to delay teenage use of substances to minimize harm to them. A recent study suggested that teens who routinely smoke marijuana are at risk for a long-term drop in their IQ that marijuana users 18 and older don’t experience. Manskopf added that teens who use marijuana before age 14 are four times more likely to become addicted by the time that they’re adults.
The statistics that Children’s Hospital published suggest that fewer than 27 percent of Seattle’s high school students had used marijuana within 30 days of taking the 2012 statewide survey. In contrast, only 22.9 percent of 12th graders nation-wide had admitted to using marijuana in that same time period. (The broader study, Monitoring the Future, was conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.)
One of the speed bumps making it tricky to enforce school policies that keep minors from using drugs at Garfield High School is because many of the students using alcohol or marijuana earn good grades, Boehm said. Neither educators nor parents want to jeopardize a high-achiever from progressing on to college by turning that student in to the school authorities, since any hint of drug use on a student’s record could negatively impact that student’s chances of getting into a good college.
Another reason Boehm said that student-users don’t get reported in middle or high school is because the current processes tend to punish teachers. Once a teacher suspects a student is high, according to the rules, they are obligated to report that student to the school’s administration. While the student might be tested for drugs by the school nurse, in the end, it’s the school administrator who determines whether or not they thinks that the teacher was justified in making the original assessment for student substance abuse.
Surveys from years gone by have already suggested that teens consume more marijuana than ever before. Boehm said that schools are merely reactive to teen substance abuse when they should be much more proactive about prevention, and that she thinks pot consumption is on the rise with teens because the general consensus is that marijuana is less risky than what folks previously knew it to be true. Manskopf and Boehm felt that the change in perception was due in part to marijuana being one of Seattle’s lowest priorities among law enforcement.
“Essentially, what we’ve noticed is that marijuana use has become a low priority because the perception of harm has decreased with the Seattle Police Department and with the City Attorney who stated he is not going to pursue those cases.” Boehm said. “The rules against juveniles using marijuana are inconsistent. School policy might be very strict against it but kids still come to school smelling like marijuana and they’re going on breaks to smoke it. We’re seeing open air deals because the laws are so lax.”
From Washington’s healthy use survey data, the perception for how harmful marijuana was regarded in previous years went down by 12 percent in 2012. Speculation is that parental opinions about risk are one of the main reasons behind Seattle’s higher incidents of teens using substances.
While the 2012 study on Capitol Hill showed that Garfield ranked higher than state and national numbers for how many teens are consuming alcohol, the numbers from Ballard and Roosevelt high schools were slightly higher.
Local survey results show that parents and teachers at Garfield seem more worried about alcohol consumption among high school students than they are about weed. In 2008, 2010 and 2012 the percentage of seniors state-wide who admitted to drinking alcohol within the past 30 days remained consistent at around 45 percent. At Garfield High School, 53.4 percent of high school seniors reported some alcohol use in the 30 days before taking the survey.
Manskopf is concerned that students wrongfully perceive marijuana as a safer option than it is. All data concerning alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and prescription drugs should concern parents and teachers, Manskopf said. Beyond the fact that student brains are still developing, teens are also at a place in life where they’re prone to take risks.
Any volunteers who want to pitch in and help develop new strategies to reduce alcohol and other drug use in the community are encouraged to contact The Central Seattle Drug Free Community Coalition Coordinator, Randy Beaulieu. The program is actively seeking volunteers to help create a better future for teens on Capitol Hill. If interested, volunteers may contact Bealieu at email@example.com.