SAN MARCOS — While most teens have heard the message of “don’t drink and drive” many times, “don’t drive drugged” is a different story.
To that end, several regional health organizations, the city of San Marcos and the County Sheriff’s Department have kicked off a campaign aimed at “putting drugged driving on the radar.”
The message the speakers — including San Marcos Vice Mayor Rebecca Jones — delivered at a press conference on Tuesday is simple: driving drugged is as dangerous and carries as many consequences as driving under the influence of alcohol.
“We have all heard the message do not drink and drive, and need to add ‘don’t be high and drive,’” said Dr. Roneet Lev, an emergency physician at Scripps Mercy Hospital and a sector leader with the San Diego County Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force. “High on marijuana or high on prescriptions. We need everyone to put drugged driving on their radar.”
The speakers on Tuesday said the reason for the campaign is because recent statistics have shown a rise in the number of traffic accidents involving drivers under the influence of illicit or prescription medication — including medical marijuana.
According to a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of drivers with measurable alcohol levels has declined 30 percent between 2007 and 2014, while the number of people with drugs in their system increased from 16 percent to 20 percent over the same time period.
The percentage of drivers with marijuana in their system increased 47 percent over the same time period, according to the same survey.
At the same time, the speakers said, drugged driving is often considered “less dangerous” than driving drunk.
“It is a dangerous myth,” Lev said.
California Highway Patrol statistics show the number of fatal accidents involving drugs increased from 267 in 2001 to 399 in 2011, a 40 percent increase over the 10 years.
Lev urged people to not drive under the influence of prescription medication. She said that prescriptions often give people a false sense of security, especially if it is a medication they have been taking for a while.
“It doesn’t matter that it’s prescribed to you, it doesn’t matter that you have been on them for years, the medications affect your reflexes, coordination, multitasking and alertness that is required for driving,” Lev said. “The problem is your judgment is impaired when you are on these medications and you think you are fine, when you really are not.”
When speaking about today’s marijuana, Lev said that it is much more potent than the marijuana of yesteryear, and imperils those who smoke and get behind the wheel.
“Being stoned and being high affects your ability to drive,” Lev said.
They timed the start of the campaign with the high school and college graduation season, when police and Sheriff’s officials said they see a rise in drunken and drugged driving incidents.
Yareli Perez and Melissa Arenas are members of the San Marcos Youth Advocacy Coalition, which was formed in 2013 to inform youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and performs tasks including helping to raise awareness of San Marcos’ social host ordinance.
“We would like to ask everyone where they would rather end up after those celebrations,” Melissa said, referring to the graduation parties. “At home, in an ambulance, at the hospital, in jail or in the morgue.”