With legalization possible, educators struggle to get anti-pot message across
Last school year, the Fitch High School chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions drafted fliers to post on the walls with figures on how using marijuana and abusing prescription drugs affects teenagers’ health.
They had been meeting regularly with Carolyn Wilson, who runs anti-drug efforts in Groton schools for the Groton Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, which has been using a state grant to fund education around marijuana and prescription drugs since 2015.
The posters went up. Then some of them came down, crumpled and tossed on the ground.
“I was told by students that it was just the marijuana posters,” Wilson said. “They’re way more receptive (to) the opioid ones and the prescription drug ones than the marijuana ones.” This year, she had the posters laminated.
Public health experts say that the effects of heavy marijuana use on the brain — which can include decreased memory and concentration, lowered judgment and processing skills and memory problems — can be especially harmful in adolescents because their brains still are developing.
But for anti-drug educators, the message that marijuana is harmful for young brains is increasingly drowned out by the drum of popular culture, laws allowing the sale of marijuana in states from California to Massachusetts, medical marijuana programs and parental indifference.
“It can be discouraging,” Wilson said. “Their perception of harm is nonexistent. A lot of kids have this perception that it’s practically legal.”
Educators can try their best but, with much of the grant money and media pressure focusing on opioid painkillers and heroin as overdose deaths from those drugs reach into the thousands for Connecticut just this year, marijuana can seem like a footnote in the “just say no” discussion.
“It becomes a little bit of a comparison,” said Angela Duhaime, a former educator with the drug prevention group Southeastern Regional Action Council. “People say, ‘Well, it’s not as bad as alcohol, it’s