By Doyle Heffley, State Representative of the 122nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania's drug-induced deaths rank higher than the national average. In fact, a few years ago, more than 1,800 residents of Pennsylvania died as a direct consequence of drug use, compared to the number of Pennsylvanians who died from motor vehicle accidents (1,604) and firearms (1,325) in that same year.
In Carbon County alone, there's been a sharp increase in drug overdose-related deaths since 1996. In 2007, four adults died of drug overdoses in our county. That figure spiked significantly in 2010, when 18 county residents, including one person under the age of 21, died of drug overdoses.
With marijuana being the second most abused drug in Pennsylvania, I can't help but wonder why some state lawmakers are pushing legislation to legalize recreational use of this gateway drug.
State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), in his recent opinion-editorial, "Legalize Marijuana: We're Locking Up Pennsylvanians for No Reason at Great Cost," said the only crime committed by those who smoke marijuana is "smoking a plant which makes them feel giddy," and that the perception of marijuana being a gateway drug is false.
Well, here are the facts.
A 2012 Yale University study, which appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were associated with an increased likelihood of prescription drug abuse in men ages 18 to 25. In women of that age, marijuana use was also linked with a higher likelihood of prescription drug abuse.
More specifically, the Yale researchers focused on a sample of more than 55,000 18- to 25-year-olds. Of those, about 12 percent reported that they were abusing prescription opioids. Of the group abusing these drugs, more than 34 percent had used marijuana. Among both men and women, those who had used marijuana were 2.5 times more likely than those their age who abstained to later dabble in prescription drugs.
Perhaps it's a mere coincidence that the most abused drug in Pennsylvania is heroine? After all, the increase in prescription drug abuse is fueling a rise in heroin addiction, according to a recent NBC News report. A growing number of young people who start abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to buy.
According to Pennsylvania's most recent "Youth Survey Report" results, nearly 20 percent of students in grades six, eight, 10, 12 across the Commonwealth admitted to using marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. More than 5 percent of those students also admitted to abusing painkillers.
Marijuana legalization brings questions to the minds of parents and causes confusion for our children. Frighteningly, it can also cause the misperception that marijuana is not a harmful drug.
Studies have shown that teen marijuana use can aggravate depression and affect the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is not fully developed in teens. The list of negative affects is long, but that message can be challenged in the minds of our youth with marijuana legalization.
It is important that parents in Carbon County and the entire state keep talking to their kids about the harmful effects of marijuana and educate themselves on marijuana facts.
I am hosting a free Carbon County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Expo on Thursday, April 18, from 6-8 p.m. at the Lehighton Area High School, for parents and educators to gather more information on substance abuse.
Keep the message straight with the youth across the Commonwealth: Despite talks of legalization, marijuana is still a dangerous drug.