Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On April 20, Gov. Jay Inslee appeared as a guest on HBO's “Real Time with Bill Maher,” where he proudly promoted Washington's legalized use of medical and recreational marijuana. It was shocking to hear the governor jokingly say, “We've got the best weed in the United States of America.”
Children five years and younger are getting sick from 'weed'
New figures released on April 16 by the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) show that more and more children, especially the very young, are being exposed to toxic levels of cannabis. The center says from the year before the passage of medical marijuana in 2012 through 2017, calls involving toxic exposures to cannabis have increased by 159 percent. Most alarming is that for the age group zero to five years old, exposure reports increased by 40 percent in 2017 alone. And 23.2 percent of individuals exposed developed moderate or life-threatening symptoms.
You can see from the WAPC charts shown here that cannabis exposures have increased by more than two-and-a-half times since 2012 and kids under the age of five have been at the highest risk.
Here in Pierce County, WAPC reported 42 calls of toxic cannabis exposure in 2017. See the chart here.
I'm sorry, governor, but marijuana in Washington state is not a laughing matter.
I'm concerned about the easy access our young people have to marijuana. According to the National Families in Action (NFIA), a non-profit organization that studies national drug trends, adolescents in states that have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana have higher rates of marijuana use. And Washington is among the top 15 states in the nation with marijuana usage by young people between the ages of 12 and 17.
Boston pediatricians: Marijuana is youth gateway toward opioid addiction.
Worse than marijuana is the growing opioid epidemic in Washington state. A new study from the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee reports the economic cost of the opioid epidemic in Washington state in 2016 was more than $9.19 billion. Setting aside the economics, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1,018 opioid overdose deaths in Washington state in the 12-month period ending July 2017. From 2012 to 2016, 423 people in Pierce County died from opioid abuse. To put that in perspective, that's just under the entire population of the east Pierce County town of Wilkeson (population 492).
While some are advocating greater access to marijuana as a way to address the opioid epidemic, two nationally-recognized pediatricians at Boston Children's Hospital are sounding the warning alarms in this article, “Easing access to marijuana is not a way to solve the opioid epidemic.” Dr. Nicholas Chadi and Dr. Sharon Levy write: “Supporting medical or recreational marijuana as an alternative to opioids for conditions like chronic pain is a bad idea, especially for America's youths.” They added, “Adolescents who use marijuana are also more likely to misuse prescription opioid medications. In our experience, nearly all of our patients with opioid addiction first used marijuana heavily.”
How has legalization of marijuana affected opioid exposure in Washington's youth?
WAPC reports between 2011 and 2017, there's been a 16 percent increase of opioid exposure of children between the ages of zero to 12 (86 percent accounted for children ages zero to five.) Just as concerning, there's been a 55 percent increase in opioid exposure among those between 22 to 59 years of age. Suspected suicide was the primary reason the poison center was called for opioid exposures in individuals 20 years and older. The top opioid substances involved in poison center exposure cases 20 years and older were heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol.
What message are we sending to Washington's children?
Kids look to adults for guidance, mentorship and role models. The statistics speak loudly about the direction Washington is heading. When we have increasing numbers of young children getting ill from cannabis exposure, I believe we are heading in the wrong direction. When older children and teens are transitioning from marijuana into misuse of prescription opioid drugs, I believe we are heading in the wrong direction. And when Gov. Jay Inslee, the top elected official in Washington state, goes on national television to promote Washington's marijuana as “the best weed in the United States,” it's certainly the wrong message for our children.
When kids are getting sick from cannabis exposure and dying from opioid overdoses, it's no joke. It's time for us as adults, parents and leaders of our community and the state to go in a different direction and refocus our efforts on the protection, safety and well-being of our children — starting at the top, governor!
I welcome your comments.