Gazette opinion: More teens listening to drug-free messages

2011-07-08T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: More teens listening to drug-free messages The Billings Gazette
July 08, 2011 12:00 am

Montana high school students are using less tobacco, alcohol and other drugs than they were two years ago and much less than a decade ago, according to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The 2011 survey results released this week by the Montana Office of Public Instruction show a marked decline in alcohol use by students from the previous survey:

The number of students reporting they had five or more drinks in a row within the previous month dropped from 30.1 percent to 25.2 percent.

The fact that it’s an improvement to have one in four students binge drinking shows how much more work must be done in preventing risky behavior.

A decade earlier, 41.4 percent of Montana high school students reported binge drinking within 30 days before the survey.

YRBS results are on a positive trend for other types of substance abuse.

16.5 percent said they had smoked within the previous month, down frm 28.5 percent in the 2001 survey.

Less change was reported in smokeless tobacco use. In 2001, 15.7 percent of students reported using chew, snuff or dip within the previous month; in 2011, 13.5 percent reported using.

Marijuana use also is down since 2009 and down significantly since 2001, according to the survey. According to the 2011 survey, fewer students used marijuana, fewer used it before age 13, fewer used it within the previous 30 days and fewer used it on school property.

In 2001, 27.1 percent of high school students said they had used marijuana in the previous month. That percentage was 23 in 2009 and 21.2 in 2011.

Five-and-a-half percent of students surveyed this February said they had used marijuana on school property.

Just 3.1 percent of students said they had ever tried methamphetamine, a number unchanged from the 2009 survey, but well below the 12.6 percent who said they’d tried meth in 2001.

Although Montana voters legalized the use of marijuana for specific medical purposes in 2004, the percentage of students who have ever tried it has declined and the percentage of students currently using it has stayed about the same. With one in five high schools saying they’d smoked recently, there’s a great need for education about the affects of marijuana and the risks of use.

The survey indicated that the drug ecstasy has grown in popularity with 8.2 percent reporting they have tried it — the highest percentage reported in the five biennial surveys in which the question was asked.

New this year was a question on prescription drug abuse. Asked if they have ever taken a prescription drug such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax without a doctor’s prescription, 18.4 percent said yes. The student answers confirm other data indicating high incidence of prescription drug abuse among teens.

Another disturbing survey result is 25.2 percent of students reporting that they were offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property within the past 12 months. That number had dropped to 20.7 percent in the 2009 survey after hovering around 25 percent since 2003; it was 29.5 percent in 2001.

The takeaway from the survey is that prevention works. Several years of a comprehensive tobacco use prevention program reduced underage smoking. The Montana Meth Project graphically told Montana teens why they shouldn’t try it even once. Efforts to combat drunken driving and underage drinking are having an effect.

The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior survey was completed by 4,148 students in 46 randomly sampled high schools in Montana in February. This Centers for Disease Control survey used every two years for many years provides a consistent comparison of student reports on risky behaviors affecting safety and health.

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau summed up the value of the survey well, saying it “reminds us how important it is to continually engage youth in frank conversations about risky behaviors. It also gives us an opportunity to confront our biggest challenges in ensuring the safety of our young people and highlights the efforts of effective programs whose messages are reaching students.”

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