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South Nassau 'Truth in Medicine' Poll: Majority of Metro Area Residents Have Concerns About the Impact of Recreational Marijuana Use on Public Safety

74% say driving under the influence of marijuana concerns them, 57% say they are not aware that there is no field test to measure if a driver is under the influence of marijuana

Posted: Sep. 20, 2018

Fifty-percent of metro area New York residents support legalizing recreational marijuana, but 74% of respondents expressed concern about people driving under the influence of marijuana and 57% are unaware that currently no field sobriety test exists to test for marijuana use among drivers, according to the latest South Nassau 'Truth in Medicine' Poll, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union.

Respondents were split as to whether or not they believe marijuana is addictive with 54% saying they believe it is. Results were similar as to whether or not marijuana is a “gateway” or a habit-forming drug that may lead to other drug use with 49 percent of respondents believing it can lead to other drug usage.

An overwhelming majority – 86 percent – said tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales should be used to advance public health initiatives, the poll showed. And 94 percent agree that marijuana should not be sold near schools and houses of worship.

Most respondents believe alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana with 42 percent believing alcohol is extremely dangerous as opposed to 28 percent for marijuana.

Recreational marijuana is currently legal in nine states; medical in 30 states. Several other states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering moves to legalize recreational marijuana. Marijuana for medicinal purposes has been legal in New York since 2014. The state is currently hosting a series of public sessions to gauge community input on the implementation of regulated marijuana programs. On September 27th, that panel will be held on Long Island.

Among the ‘Truth in Medicine’ poll respondents, 50 percent supported legalizing recreational marijuana, 40 percent were opposed and 10 percent were unsure.

Respondents agree that with any potential legalization must come education, even among those currently using marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Dr. Adhi Sharma, South Nassau’s chief medical officer and executive vice president, urges lawmakers to consider creating a fund that ensures the tax revenue generated from recreational marijuana sales go to research field sobriety tests for drivers under the influence. A public health campaign around the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana also is needed, he said.

“Regardless of your personal opinion on medical or recreational marijuana use, should recreational use become legal in New York, there needs to be a significant public health campaign on the dangers of driving while under the influence,” Sharma said. “Long Island was in the forefront of efforts to educate the public about dangers of Driving While Under Influence of alcohol. No less an effort should surround any legalization of recreational marijuana.”

The South Nassau Truth in Medicine Poll, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, is a quarterly survey of 600 Long Island and New York City residents that aims to gather data about public attitudes on key public health topics and help spur public education to improve public health. The poll was conducted via both landlines and cell phones from August 6-13 with 600 adults in New York City and on Long Island.

Age is an important factor in determining opinion on the issue of recreational use as is whether an individual uses or knows someone who uses recreational or medicinal marijuana. Some 70 percent of respondents age 65 and older said they had concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana. Geography also plays a role. New York City residents were slightly more likely to support legalization (50% support v. 38% oppose) than on Long Island (46% support v. 46% oppose). Marijuana does affect your ability to drive, studies show, but to what extent remains largely unknown, experts say. As more and more states legalize recreational marijuana, driving under the influence becomes an increasingly important topic. In New York State, it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, but there is no on-site chemical tests, like a breathalyzer or similar field sobriety test, to determine how recently you used the drug. Only a blood test can determine recent drug use.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (70% of adults) agree with allowing marijuana for medical purposes. Respondents were split as to whether or not they believe marijuana is addictive with 54% saying they believe it is and 14% not sure. Results were similar as to whether or not marijuana is a “gateway” or a habit-forming drug that may lead to other drug use. Forty-nine percent of respondents say it is and 16% are not sure.

The increased acceptance of marijuana as a legal substance may give people a false sense of security about its safety, warns Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, South Nassau’s Department of Medicine Chair and Hospital Epidemiologist. According to a recent study in the American Academy of Pediatrics, marijuana is one of the most widely used substances during pregnancy. Nursing mothers are being advised to avoid marijuana use because traces of “Tetrahydrocannabinol,” or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets people high, can be detected in breast milk up to six days after use of the drug.

Dr. Glatt also points out that long-term marijuana use can impact brain development, lead to respiratory and heart problems and have negative effects on mental health and social abilities.

“Even if recreational marijuana use is legalized, it must come with public education about potential risks as the full scope of health impacts are still largely unknown. At the very least, it should be heavily regulated, like alcohol,” said Dr. Glatt.

Poll results vary by age, race and other demographic indicators like whether or not you live in the city or Long Island. Sixty-two percent of respondents age 18-34 support legalizing recreational marijuana, but almost the same number (60%) of their parents’ age groups, age 65 and up, oppose it. Additionally, in the 35-49 age group, 51% support legalization and 50% support it in the 50-65 year-old group.

The Truth in Medicine Poll, sponsored by Bethpage, was conducted as part of the hospital’s mission of improving education around critical public health issues. The poll was conducted by a nationally recognized, independent polling firm, LJR Custom Strategies,which has offices in Washington, DC and New Orleans, LA. LJR has conducted more than 2,000 studies for a broad spectrum of health care, business, education, cultural, and political clients in almost every state in the country and around the world.

This is South Nassau’s third public health poll of 2018. Two earlier polls in 2018 discussed children’s screen time and using supplements to ward off cold and plus, in additional to four polls in 2017.

“The series of South Nassau ‘Truth in Medicine’ polls have successfully raised public awareness around a number of key public health issues,” said Richard J. Murphy, South Nassau’s president & CEO. “We are greatly appreciative to have the support and sponsorship of Bethpage Federal Credit Union, which shares in our commitment to advance public education as a way to improve the overall health of the residents we serve.”

“As recreational use becomes more widely accepted and legal, we must simultaneously intensify our public safety campaigns about the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana so that drivers are not given a false sense of security. Just as parents educate their children about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, the same should be done for marijuana use,” said Dr. Sharma.

Designated a Magnet® hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) for outstanding nursing care, South Nassau® Communities Hospital is one of the region’s largest hospitals, with 455 beds, more than 900 physicians and 3,500 employees. Located in Oceanside, NY, the hospital is an acute-care, not-for-profit teaching hospital that provides state-of-the-art care in cardiac, oncologic, orthopedic, bariatric, pain management, mental health and emergency services.

In addition to its extensive outpatient specialty centers, South Nassau provides emergency and elective angioplasty, and offers Novalis Tx™ and Gamma Knife® radiosurgery technologies. South Nassau operates the only Trauma Center on the South Shore of Nassau County verified by the American College of Surgeons as well as Long Island’s only free-standing, 9-1-1 receiving Emergency Department in Long Beach. South Nassau is the only hospital on Long Island in 2018 to achieve Healthgrades America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Orthopedic Surgery™, Orthopedic Surgery Excellence Award™ and 5-star rating for Total Hip Replacement, and it was one of just two hospitals on Long Island to achieve Healthgrades 5-stars in Hip Fracture Treatment. South Nassau also is a designated Stroke Center by the New York State Department of Health and Comprehensive Community Cancer Center by the American College of Surgeons, and is an accredited center of the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Association and Quality Improvement Program. In addition, the hospital has been awarded The Joint Commission’s gold seal of approval for disease-specific care for hip and knee replacement, heart failure, bariatric surgery, wound care and end-stage renal disease. For more information, visit southnassau.org.