Recently, law enforcement officials made major marijuana-related busts in Lewiston and Auburn. Many community members commented online through news outlets, Facebook, and the Sun Journal that marijuana is legal in Maine, a natural plant, and that, historically, there have been no deaths from using marijuana, so they did not see why those busts were a big deal.

These are common misconceptions about marijuana. While it is legal for a person over 21 years of age to use marijuana in their own home in Maine, it is still illegal to buy or sell here; and it is illegal to use marijuana under federal law.

The marijuana of today is not the marijuana of yesteryear. According to studies cited by the Center for Disease Control, National Institute of Health and National Institute of Drug Abuse, the level of THC (the chemical that produces the high effect) has risen from about 4 percent in 1995 to about 12 percent in 2014.

Marijuana may be “natural,” but that does not mean it is safe. Marijuana, like many natural plants, does have harmful effects. Research shows that marijuana is addictive, it can alter mood, and it impairs body movement, thinking, memory and problem-solving skills.

High levels of marijuana use are related to poorer educational outcomes, lower income, greater unemployment and lower relationship and life satisfaction. Persons who are under the influence of marijuana are six times more likely to die if they are in a car accident.

How do we, as a community, use this information now that marijuana is legal for Mainers over the age of 21 to use? Here are some suggestions. As a parent or other caring adult, be honest and positive when talking to youth about marijuana use. Share fact-based information and avoid scare tactics. Be clear and consistent about your rules and expectations around not using substances. Be realistic: marijuana may not be the most lethal drug, but it is not harmless, either. Talk about the potential risks associated with use and focus on how it may affect their goals and future success.

Other community members commenting on the marijuana busts brought up concerns that heroin and fentanyl use are not being addressed in our community.

In fact, there are many initiatives happening in Androscoggin County to combat this epidemic through partnerships with law enforcement, physicians, municipalities, treatment, recovery groups, hospitals, community agencies, schools and more. For instance, medication assisted therapy, single point-of-entry for help/referral, and peer support programs have all increased during the past several years.

Another existing initiative provides resources to properly dispose of expired, unused or unwanted drugs since more than 80 percent of people who are addicted to opioids started with a legally obtained prescription medication. There are seven permanent medication disposal boxes in Androscoggin County, available any day where medications can be dropped off — no questions asked. Since 2010, free medicine disposal days have occurred twice per year. More than 13 tons of medications have been collected and disposed of through these events.

The opioid epidemic evolved over the course of 20 years, and it will take almost as long to reverse. There is no quick fix. However, according to the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, youth use of alcohol, binge drinking, cigarette use and prescription drug misuse have all significantly decreased since 2009.

While we still have a long way to go to address our opioid issue, our community has had success addressing other drugs, and we have already made strides in building on those successes. The bottom line is that the more the community gets involved, the better the outcome.

Corrie Brown, LMSW, PS-C, is substance use prevention manager for Healthy Androscoggin.

Corrie Brown

For more information about what is happening in Androscoggin County around substance use prevention, resources, or how individuals can help address substance use, visit www.healthyandroscoggin.org or visit our YouTube Channel. If you need assistance, call 211 or go to www.211maine.org. The next free Medicine Disposal Day is Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


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