Palomar Health-Backed Program Influences U.S. Surgeon General


A program Palomar Health helped initiate is influencing nationwide policy.

The Escondido Drug Free Coalition, founded through Palomar Health’s Community Action Council, was invited by the Health and Human Services Agency to meet with United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD on August 7 at the County Administration Building in San Diego. The visit was part of the surgeon general’s national tour to learn, among other things, how teens access and use illicit drugs.

As a member of the Palomar Health Patient Family Advisory Council (PFAC) and Escondido Community Action Council, Mary Anne Dijak is active in many areas of the community. She’s affiliated with the Drug Free Coalition through her work at the Escondido Education Compact. She was part of the group that included recently graduated local high school student Arturo Velasco who personally visited with the surgeon general.

Velasco said Dr. Adams wanted to know the extent of the vaping problem from a youth’s point of view. Velasco said the surgeon general was shocked to learn students are vaping at school, in the bathroom and even in the classroom.

“The bathroom (in high school) was known as the JUUL room,” Velasco said (referring to one popular vaping device). “It was the place to hang out,” until school administration found out and limited access.

Velasco said before marijuana was made legal in California, kids didn’t view using it as “normal.” They thought it was dangerous. Now he says the social stigma has reversed and kids believe it’s harmless and cool.

Dijak says the legalization of marijuana has made access easier for youth and the ability to vape has made it possible to conceal at school. Because of this she’s seen a proliferation of marijuana use among teens in North County. In 2015, 24% of youth entering the diversion program used marijuana. In 2018, the percentage had spiked to 75%, a three-fold increase in just three years. The harmful effects are evidenced by 67% of kids in the diversion program are failing school.

“This isn’t your grandma’s marijuana,” Dijak says she likes to tell others.

Modern marijuana is much stronger and the effects of vaping (see Dr. Gregory Hirsch’s explanation) can be deadly.

While marijuana’s harmful effects wasn’t news to the surgeon general, the fact that kids are using marijuana in class with teachers present was news. He used the information to issue a nationwide press release just three weeks later warning of its use by youth and pregnant women.

The Escondido Drug Free Coalition is working with the District Attorney’s office to create public service announcements to be distributed at movie theaters about the harmful effects of marijuana use and vaping.

Photo caption: Arturo Velasco (left) takes a photo with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, and Escondido High student Carolina Flores (right).

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