A survey of youth drug use in Snohomish County shows almost 46 percent of high school seniors have tried marijuana, and almost 10 percent cocaine.
The statistics were released recently by the Snohomish Health District. The information was obtained from a Healthy Youth Survey given to sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders.
The district is so concerned about opiod use for people of all ages that it is putting on community forums countywide this month (see sidebar). Opiod overdose has killed 900 people countywide in the past 10 years, more than motor vehicle crashes (543), homicide (151) and falls (691).
The marijuana study was done after the state legalized pot in 2012. Marijuana has surpassed cigarettes as the substance being tried the most in high school, behind alcohol.
“There has been a great deal of curiosity about how legalization will impact our communities, and ultimately whether it will pose a threat to our residents health,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director of the health district. “While it will take several years to fully answer those questions, this report serves as an important baseline from which we can compare future studies.”
The study says county marijuana processors, producers and retailers generated more than $26 million in sales last year. During the school year, districts suspended 433 students for pot-related offenses.
Among youth, about 16 percent of both boys and girls used marijuana. By race, blacks were the most-likely to use pot at 25 percent, followed by hispanics at 20.5 percent, whites at 16 percent and Asians at 8 percent.
The study refers to a report done in 2012 that says, in part: “Those who use marijuana more than once a week before the age of 18 displayed tendencies to have slower reaction times, impaired intelligence, poor listening skills, and shorter attention spans, compared to those who started using after age 18.”
The study also supports delaying marijuana use until after the brain is fully developed at age 25.
“One of the most important policy implications we found is that there is a greater need for more data in regards to marijuana,” said Mary Jane Brell-Vujovic, the county’s director of Human Services. “This task will require continued coordination of public health and social services, as well as collaboration with law enforcement, criminal justice and other partners to have a collective impact.”
The pot study has some information directly related to Marysville, Arlington and Lakewood.
•Arlington has 30 licenses for marijuana-related businesses, with 22 being processors and producers. Marysville has one, a retailer with a medical endorsement, because it has banned recreational marijuana businesses.
•Arlington has handed out 21 violations for marijuana business infractions. Selling or service to a minor is a common infraction countywide.
•Arlington reported sales of marijuana products at $8.345 million last year, bringing in $2.086 million in taxes.
•Countywide, student suspensions for pot use varied from three to 45 days. Others were referred to drug treatment, community service or juvenile detention. Marysville had .4 of 1 percent of its students suspended for pot, while Lakewood and Arlington each had .3 of 1 percent.
•The average length of suspension was: 8.2 days in Arlington, 9.5 days in Marysville and 14.2 days in Lakewood. Countywide, the low was 6.2 days in Granite Falls and the high 39 days in Stanwood-Camano.
The pot study mentions that a new challenge schools face is the use of vapor devices, which emit little or no odor.
The study says 8.4 percent of 12th-graders have used pot on school property, with eighth-graders at 3.1 percent. About 3.2 percent of sixth-graders have tried pot. Few students have tried edible or vaporized pot.
Student perceptions about marijuana vary, as 91 percent of sixth-graders think it’s wrong to use, while 30 percent of 12th-graders do.
About 10 percent of eighth-graders say they recently rode in a car with a driver who had been using marijuana, while 28 percent of seniors have. About 17.5 percent of 12th-graders had driven after using pot.
The district study also gives recommendations for the future.
For parents, it says to talk to their children about why people use drugs, addiction and the danger to their brains.
For schools, warn students about driving under the influence and that pot is stronger than it used to be. Also, make them aware of seemingly innocent pot products, such as gummy bears and sodas.
For government, it needs to crack down on DUI, sales to minors, and it needs to limit the potency, especially for far-more-potent edible forms.
The Health Youth Survey also has a portion for opiod use.
In general, eighth-graders in the county were more likely than those in the rest of the state to have abused prescription drugs; 12th-graders were more likely to have used cocaine or heroin. Students at all levels understand the risk of taking drugs, but just 71.4 percent of seniors think it’s wrong to take cocaine, LSD, meth or other illegal drugs.
Also, 2.8 percent of sixth-graders have tried inhalents to get high, compared with 11.1 percent of seniors. About 9.7 percent of 12th-graders have taken cocaine, 5.7 percent heroin and 6 percent meth. Numbers for eighth-graders were about one-third of those figures.
The district study also gives recommendations for the future.
For parents, look for signs of drug use, such as loss of interest in hobbies, disappearance of money or valuables and changes in mood or appearance. Dispose of prescription medication.
For schools, teens often overestimate the amount of drug use. Teach them the norms and reduce peer pressure to use, via assemblies, etc. Offer teen events and extracurricular activities.
As for adults, in Snohomish County abuse of painkillers actually is going down, but the use of heroin is going up.
To slow the epidemic, the county suggests:
•Dedicate funding to public health to address mental health and substance use. Equip first responders with Naloxone kits that can save lives, and offer needle exchange programs.
•Increase capacity for voluntary treatment, detox beds, and expand involuntary treatment and secured detox facilities.
•Recruit providers for treatment like suboxone and methadone and access to behavioral therapies; and increase safety practices for prescription opiods.
Two of the four community forums on Opiods and Heroin in Snohomish County will be in Tulalip and Arlington.
The one at Tulalip will be Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the casino-resort. The one in Arlington will be Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center at Arlington High School.
“Whether you want to call this an epidemic or not, what we do know is that there is not one community in Snohomish County that is not touched by heroin and opioid addiction,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director of the Snohomish Health District. “All income levels and ages, those highly educated and those with limited educations, urban and rural communities alike — all are affected by heroin and opioid addiction.”
In addition to the forum and resource tables, attendees can stay after to receive a brief training on how to use naloxone — the life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
“The heroin epidemic is causing significant damage across our region, and we have an obligation to help our neighbors,” said Mary Jane Brell-Vujovic, the county’s director of Human Services. “Our friends and family members are suffering, and some of the best medicine for our entire community is more knowledge, since more knowledge will guide our efforts to make meaningful change.”
For details, visit www.snohd.org/heroin.
The other forums will be Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Cavalero Middle School, 8220 24th St. SE, Lake Stevens; and Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Edmonds Community College, 20000 68th Ave. W, Lynnwood.
Each forum will include a panel of subject-matter experts and audience questions. Topics to be covered include a history of the epidemic, the physical response to opioids, addiction vs. dependence, treatment options and what is currently being done.