Talking teen drug use with Marsha Rosenbaum, director emerita of Drug Policy Alliance

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on October 5, 2015

In what will be her second appearance, Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, is returning to her alma mater, Menlo-Atherton High School, to talk to parents about teen drug use. The talk, titled Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs, will take place on Thursday, October 8 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm at the M-A Performing Arts Center (PAC Café). Free tickets are available online.

Marsha is a well-respected expert on the topic. She is director emerita of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, where she spearheaded DPA’s work on youth and drugs and created the Safety First booklet. She received her doctorate in medical sociology from the University of California at San Francisco, and, from 1977 to 1995, was the principal investigator on National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded studies of heroin addiction, methadone maintenance treatment, MDMA (Ecstasy), cocaine, and drug use during pregnancy.

“Parents don’t need to be lectured to,” Marsha said. “The idea is to walk them through what’s going on with teenagers and drugs now — and how they can best deal with it.”

During our conversation, she pointed out that a sizable number of teens have been using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs for decades. But the landscape is changing.

“Now we have a movement in the U.S. to legalize marijuana,” she said. “What does that mean for kids and their parents?

“All of the marijuana initiatives are very clear that marijuana should not be available to minors, just like alcohol. And teen usage has not increased in states that have already legalized marijuana.”

According to Marsha, alcohol remains the most widely-used drug among teenagers. “The good news is that in the last decade or so, there’s an increased consciousness about safety, particularly related to drinking and driving.”

She believes that focusing on safety in talking about marijuana use with teens is a wise strategy. “Sure, abstinence is the first choice,” she said. “But it’s good to have a Plan B. What’s the fall back strategy to ensure your kids are safe?”

What, we asked her, can a parent do if their teen is a daily user of marijuana? She replied: “First, take a deep breath. Try in the calmest way possible to open up communication in the most nonjudgmental way possible.

“It’s a process of getting the kid to recognize there is an issue. Are they self-medicating? Are they bored? Do they have few friends? Are the friends they have also daily users?”

On a broader front, Marsha foresees that drug education will need to change in the era of marijuana legalization. “I’ve served on a commission Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome established that looked at how we keep kids safe when/if marijuana is legalized. We need to rethink drug education and prevention. It should be based on sound science, not misinformation. And teens themselves should be involved in the development of drug education.”

 Photo courtesy of Marsha Rosenbaum

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