Drug use declining for teens: Survey

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Monday, June 25, 2012
— The good news is Rock County teens report using less alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

But at the same time, fewer students say their parents would disapprove of them using illegal substances, said Kate Baldwin, director of Partners in Prevention Rock County.

"What I'm reading into it is kids seem to be getting the message that alcohol and drugs aren't good for them, and they're not using," she said. "However, parents are lagging behind. They really need to step up to the plate and get more education. … Or they're just not telling their kids, which could be possible."

This year's results from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey show a continued trend of fewer students reporting the use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana in the previous 30 days.

Among all surveyed students, 23 percent reported using alcohol in the past month, compared to 34 percent in 2003. The decline holds true for tobacco use—11 percent this year compared to 18 percent in 2003—and for marijuana use—10 percent this year compared to 20 percent in 2003, according to data from Partners in Prevention.

One thing the survey does

not address is a student's use of prescription drugs in the past month, Baldwin said.

"We do know that is going up drastically," she said.

The survey is part of a national effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor health-risk behaviors among students. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction gives the survey every two years, and this year students in all Rock County school districts took the survey.

Partners in Prevention administered the survey for all the county districts except the Janesville School District, which administered it itself, according to a district official. Therefore, the countywide data from Partners does not include Janesville data.

The voluntary student responses remain anonymous.

While marijuana use appears to be going down, Baldwin said in some places it's just "skyrocketing." If this year's countywide data included Janesville, she guessed the numbers would be up.

Why the decline?

One factor Partners in Prevention cited was Sheriff Bob Spoden taking a public stand against underage drinking. Sheriff's Capt. Jude Maurer said the office has focused on education and enforcement.

Grants have allowed deputies to conduct underage drinking checks and provide extra enforcement during prom and homecoming seasons, he said. Education comes through announcing the anticipated enforcement actions, he said.

"Sure, it's got some effect," he said. "To what degree, (you can) argue it either way. (I'd) argue it's been working."

The number of underage drinking citations issued by third-shift deputies is down 52 percent this year compared to the same time last year, he said. Citations remain the same on first shift while second shift has seen a 26 percent increase, he said.

Sheriff's office data shows the number of underage drinking incidents rose from 103 in 2007 to 143 in 2011. Juvenile-related alcohol citations reached a high of 288 in 2008, dropped to 193 in 2010 and edged up to 205 citations in 2011.

Capt. Gary Groelle said some incidents net 15 or more citations, bumping the numbers up quickly. Deputies have focused on areas where teens are known to drink, especially in summer, he said.

"I'd like to think we're making a difference. I believe we are," he said.

Janesville, Beloit and Beloit Turner high school students this year made presentations to 6,000 second-grade through eighth-grade students through the peer advocacy program Rock County Youth2Youth, director Debbie Fischer said. The program's main focus had been tobacco prevention, but in the last three years it has started targeting underage drinking and marijuana prevention and education.

"We know we're not the only answer, but we've been part of the solution because it's kids talking to kids, not adults talking to them," she said. "They're giving them tools to say, 'No,' and how to talk to adults they know that are abusing tobacco and alcohol."

Through research and her own experiences, Fischer said the younger the youth are targeted, the more the prevention works.

Baldwin attributes much of the change to the work by all the coalitions, including Y2Y, that Partners in Prevention helped form in Rock County.

"Everyone really has done a lot of work in the last 10 years to bring those numbers down," she said.

Community efforts

The Building A Safer Evansville coalition is coming to the end of its second and last grant-funded year. It will find out in August whether it receives a 10-year drug-free community grant, said Jennifer Braun, mentor project coordinator for the coalition and Partners in Prevention.

While she said they don't have data showing the coalition's impact on risky teen behaviors, they know through a community survey they've gotten the word out.

The coalition worked with the Evansville Police Department to establish a prescription drug drop box, which has collected more than 156 pounds of drugs in about a year, she said.

They've also worked with the city's youth center to start the "Too Good for Drugs and Violence" curriculum, which gives kids skills and confidence to create life goals and to say, "No," to drugs and violence, she said.

Still, Evansville's Youth Risk Behavior Survey data is higher than the Rock County averages in many risky behaviors, such as drinking or smoking pot while driving, or riding with someone who was, Braun said.

Because it's in a smaller community, Building A Safer Evansville has tried to focus on the culture of drinking—and culture of acceptance among residents who think it's OK if their kids are doing it because they did it when they were younger, she said.

The "Little Eyes Are Watching" campaign included posters and T-shirts at festivals such as the annual Fourth of July celebration to remind adults to drink responsibly because kids are watching them in the beer tent.

Other community town hall meetings have used a brain development curriculum to show what substance abuse does to the brain, which isn't done developing until age 25, Braun said. The information was eye opening to many students and even adults, she said.

"A lot of it isn't that they don't care, it's that they don't know," she said.

Similar efforts have been made through local coalitions in Rock County. A new coalition is forming in Milton, where the school district and police have been active on the same issues for a long time, Baldwin said.

"They're ready to make a coordinated community effort," she said.

In Orfordville, Parkview students took the survey for the first time this year, and a town hall meeting was held to educate the public.

The survey found students in the rural district report a higher use of chewing tobacco than the rest of the county, Baldwin said.

People are willing to work together to address the issues, she said. Formation of a Students Against Destructive Decisions group is underway.

The 10-year, drug-free community grant that has provided Partners in Prevention with its most significant funding ends in fall. The organization is working to broaden its focus on healthy living.

The goal was to build coalitions in each community so they could apply for drug-free grants, Baldwin said.

The organization will continue to be a coordinating council for all the anti-drug coalitions in Rock County, she said.

Last updated: 8:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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