By Ed Runyan
With news that voters in Colorado and Washington State last month legalized “recreational marijuana,” the message people locally may be getting is that the drug is safe.
But that ignores the fact that it is still illegal under federal law, illegal in Ohio, will show up on a drug screen required for many jobs and will most likely prevent someone from getting hired, said April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
She said Monday during a special session organized for local legislators that marijuana isn’t the same drug as the one from the 1970s and 1980s, either.
“It’s probably seven times more powerful,” she said, adding that the drug lowers inhibitions, which leads users to engage in risky behaviors related to sex, driving and other drugs.
Similarly, people have an unconcerned attitude toward certain pain medications that frequently lead to opiate addictions.
“Nobody wakes up one morning and says, ‘I’m going to become a heroin addict,’” she said. “Most of the people who become opiate-addicted did get hurt at work ... and then they got hooked on Vicodin, and that didn’t work after a while, so they took Percocet. And the next thing you know, you have an addiction problem.
“I think one of our primary goals should be to educate our parents about tolerance levels. It seems to me that we have a whole generation that says, ‘It’s only pot,’ or ‘It’s only Percocet.’ They’re both two drugs, if you have them in your system, you don’t have a prescription for the Percocet, you’re going to fail the drug test. If you smoke the marijuana, it’s not legal, you’re going to fail the drug test.”
Caraway said a friend who is a paramedic told her that many people now don’t believe marijuana is against the law because when she asks them for a list of drugs in their system, they will say, “Oh, well I just smoked pot, but that it’s not illegal, and it’s like they don’t understand yes it is, and that’s what’s stopping you from getting a job.”
State Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda attended the session, designed to better inform officials of local mental-health and recovery needs.
Franklin and Fuda have focused recently on local people not able to get hired to local jobs because they cannot pass a drug test.
They also supported a project unveiled recently by two ex-convicts hoping to start program to help get mental health and substance-abuse help for people leaving prison.
Gary Seech, regional director of operations for Glenbeigh, which specializes in drug and alcohol treatment, said he’s learned that there’s been a large increase in marijuana use among over the past year among girls in seventh through 10th grades in the Pittsburgh area, where he lives.
Seech said another lesser-known addiction problem has been identified among young athletes, who may receive a prescription for a specific injury, but the “drugs are so powerful, they short-circuit the brain.”
Seech said it doesn’t take long for the athlete to become addicted.
“It’s not a matter of need,” he said of the addict. “The brain says there is no other option” but to have the drug.
Some of the mental- health and recovery professionals attending stressed to Cafaro the importance of Ohio increasing the number of people eligible for Medicaid, by increasing eligibility from the current standard of about 100 percent of the poverty level to 138 percent.