KINGMAN - While alcohol and cigarette use among teens has declined since 2008 in Mohave County, marijuana use is on the rise and state and local anti-drug leaders fear it is due to the drug's increased acceptance among adults for medicinal purposes.
An Arizona Youth Survey conducted by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission in Phoenix every two years shows that from 2008 to 2012, the use of marijuana in Mohave County has grown with each survey. Schools in all the state's 15 counties were part of the survey given to students in eighth, tenth and twelfth grades.
The use of prescription stimulants and ecstasy also has risen among local youth.
The decrease in alcohol and cigarette use is encouraging, said Leslie Bloom, director of DrugFreeAz.org, and has been a hard-fought battle throughout Arizona. But the victory is bittersweet because marijuana use has taken the place of alcohol. Since society is now calling marijuana medicine, youth inhibitions toward it are weakening for the first time in many years, said Bloom.
"Our great concern is that when something becomes more acceptable and accessible, it has a direct effect on teen attitudes towards it," said Bloom. "When society sends a 'yes' message like this, it impacts their decision on using the drug."
In Arizona, the average age of first-time drug use is 13 years old, said Bloom, and 90 percent of drug addictions start in the teen years. The 2012 AYS showed there are as many youth marijuana users in Arizona as there are youth cigarette users, and that 11.6 percent of teens in the state have obtained the drug from a medical marijuana cardholder.
Both Bloom and Trish Ford of Arizona Youth Partnership in Kingman said that input from parents, educators and other caregivers is vital in steering youth away from drugs. Arizona Youth Partnership is a nonprofit agency that tries to help rural youth and families choose healthier lifestyles.
"Some parents are aware of what today's youth are struggling with and others don't think it's really happening," said Ford. "We want to bring better awareness to the community so parents will become more responsible and talk to their teens. We just need to get more information out there."