The Tiverton Prevention Coalition is taking a leading role to reduce teen marijuana use statewide after a federal study named Rhode Island's youths some of the most frequent users in the country.
According to “Monitoring the Future,” (MTF) a federally-funded study of teen behaviors and attitudes conducted by the University of Michigan, Rhode Island’s 12-to-17-year-olds are using marijuana more frequently than their peers in every other state except Vermont and Colorado, which tied with the Ocean State for the dubious first-place distinction.
This doesn’t look good for the future. Kids in Rhode Island are now 10 percent more likely to begin marijuana use at an earlier age than kids in other states.
MTF findings became a call to action for a unique group of RI prevention specialists. Eight coordinators of the RI substance abuse task forces that receive federal funds from the Drug Free Communities Program, including Rebecca Elwell of the Tiverton Prevention Coalition, agreed to band together to form the Ocean State Prevention Alliance. Their goal is to develop a statewide strategy to prevent marijuana use among the state’s teens.
“[The alliance] wants to bring the principles of prevention to state-wide marijuana policy, and that starts with a strong communication strategy, especially in light of the recent decriminalization of marijuana and approval for medical marijuana," said Elwell, the coordinator of Tiverton's program. "There is a lot of misinformation circulating and that misinformation creates false perceptions, and that’s what we need to correct. Marijuana is illegal and will remain illegal even after the penalties change in April 2013.”
Nationwide, MTF reported that marijuana use among teens increased in 2011 for the fourth straight year. Daily marijuana use is now at a 30-year peak among high school seniors.
“We want to meet the challenge of rising marijuana use and the all too prevalent perception that marijuana is safe,” explained Kathy Sullivan, prevention director of the BAY Team in Barrington, a founding member of the group. “Studies tell us that large segments of the teen population report that daily marijuana use poses little or no risk or harm. That is a key indicator that we’ll see an increase in use.”
One reason for increased use can be linked to youth reporting that it is difficult to identify credible sources of information pertaining to marijuana. They also lack specific knowledge about how driving under the influence of marijuana can impair an individual.
“Our primary goal is to prevent youth marijuana use,” Sullivan said. “We know that this is long-term effort, but we recognize there is power in numbers.”
Prevention coordinators from the following communities make up the Ocean State Prevention Alliance: Barrington, Tiverton, Narragansett, Middletown, North Kingstown, Woonsocket, Providence, and Chariho. For more information, contact your local prevention coalition or contact Rebecca Elwell at Rebecca@tivertonprevention.org.
Ocean State Prevention Alliance members will be meeting with Sue Thau, a public policy consultant representing Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) while she is in Rhode Island as the key-note speaker of the RI Student Assistance Service conference “Staying Ahead of Youth Drug Trend: Educate. Act. Prevent.” on October 22.