Students come along for anti-drug trip to Washington

Published 9:01 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rhonda Gunnell and Charlette Fornea are combatting the use of marijuana and alcohol at every opportunity.

Gunnell, the Washington Parish Coalition on Human Services Drug-Free Communities Support Program director, and ADAPT Executive Director Fornea, recently attended a leadership forum in Washington, D.C., for the second time in two months. They took six student leaders from Pine High School making up the Washington Parish Youth Leadership Team. Students included Grace Anne Fornea, Fallon Turner, Abby Thomas, Kirsten Barber, Justin Gunnell and Jonathan Pierce.

The trips were available after the Washington Parish Coalition on Human Services was recently awarded a $125,000 federal grant to combat marijuana and alcohol use.

“I’ve been to a lot of workshops on the national level, but this was the most organized I’ve ever been to,” Gunnell said. “All the networking was amazing. The youth got to network with other youth from all over the United States. They got some ideas they want to implement.”

The theme for the forum was “Youth Make the Mission Possible,” referencing the “Mission: Impossible” film series.

Gunnell and Fornea said marijuana use was a focus at the forum, which was Feb. 1 through 5. They said pharmacies in some states are having problems regarding medical marijuana and the FDA.

“Marinol is a legal marijuana that can be prescribed by doctors and is FDA approved. A prescription for it can be filled by a pharmacy anywhere,” Fornea said. “They’re saying medical marijuana has to be approved by each state. A prescription can’t be filled by a pharmacy because it is not approved by the FDA. It must be bought with cash because banks can’t handle transactions for an illegal drug.”

Fornea learned modern marijuana is much more potent than 50 years ago.

“Marijuana has been synthesized to a higher degree. In the 1970s, it was 1 percent. Now it’s 30 percent THC or higher,” Fornea said. “Surveys show that when perception of harm decreases, use increases. We’re sending a mixed message in that marijuana has 50-70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco.”

The Washington Parish Youth Leadership Team had the opportunity to meet U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham. They also met with a representative from U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s office.

“The students talked to senators and representatives about problems we have in Washington Parish. The students would like to see it addressed and funded to combat the problems in our area with alcohol and marijuana,” Gunnell said.

Gunnell and Fornea said they would like to include more schools and students over the next two years.

“We’re going to expand the program to each of the high schools in the parish and Bogalusa City Schools because they do have leadership abilities we don’t utilize enough,” Gunnell said. “We aim to educate them so they know all the facts. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to substance abuse.”