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New teen drug use study says don’t toke and drive

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New research regarding the use of marijuana and alcohol at the same time by teenagers recommends that federal, state, and local legal and educational systems include warnings about using marijuana and other drugs in their efforts to prevent driving while under the influence in teens. The research was conducted by Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath and colleagues the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor. The study was published in the April 28, 2014, edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The results of the study are based on the statistics compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse for the use of drugs and alcohol by seniors in high school from 1976 through 2011. Teen use of marijuana and alcohol has declined by a minimum of 22 percent in the last 34 years. About 66 percent of seniors in high school reported using either marijuana or alcohol in 2011 and 21 percent reported using both alcohol and marijuana at the same time.

The researchers found that 40 percent of the teens that used both alcohol and marijuana at the same time had a traffic citation within the last year and that thirty percent had had an accident. The researchers propose that the use of alcohol and marijuana at the same time may impair teen driving skills and judgment in some way. No correlation between the number of citations given to teens that used no drugs or alcohol or the number accidents that teens that used no drugs or alcohol were involved in was included as part of the study.

The researchers suggest that schools and lawmakers support an effort to explain the dangers of using both marijuana and alcohol and driving. The scientists suggest an approach that does not use inaccurate scare tactics. One might expect to see new public service announcements that say something like “Don’t Toke and Drive.”

One might note that all the states that have legalized or liberalized the use of marijuana still have very stringent laws against driving while under the influence of any substance. Most states also have a higher penalty for driving under the influence of illegal drugs that are psychoactive than the laws governing prescription drugs that can effect concentration or motor skills. If every driver in the United States over 65 that drives while under the influence of a pain killer or an anti-anxiety medication was arrested, the existing penal system could not cope.

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