Survey says student drug use down

T he day after she had to suspend four students for drug-related offenses, Whitehall Central School Principal Kelly McHugh and her staff found out they also had something to be proud about.

“I got some good news,” said McHugh, who received the results of a survey of 313 Whitehall students compiled by the Council For Prevention, the first such survey in six years.

“There were definitely some things in there to be happy about,” McHugh said. “There were some things that are worrisome, but in general, I was pleased with what I saw.”

Some of the things that McHugh liked in the survey – which was taken by 86 percent of the students in grades 7-12 – included the fact that overall lifetime use of alcohol is down 10 percent and among 10th-graders it is down 14 percent.

The number of students who have never tried marijuana is up 9 percent. Among seventh- graders that figure is up 19 percent, and it is 26 percent higher among eighth-graders and 22 percent higher among 10th-graders.

She was also pleased to see that the number of students who have smoked at least once in their lives is down 9 percent, although there has been a 5 percent increase in the use of chewing tobacco.

The survey included other types of questions as well, and McHugh pointed to numbers that indicated many more students felt as though they had a chance to speak one-on-one with their teachers and that their parents had a much better chance of finding out they had done something well in school. “Those were concerns in the past,” McHugh said.

There were some figures that concerned McHugh, including the fact that while only 3.3 percent of eighth-graders said they had used marijuana at least once in their lives, the number for ninth-graders was 22.9 percent. “The transition at Grade 9 is difficult,” she said, noting the school has been concentrating on seventh- and eighth-graders and will be expanding services for ninth-graders next year.

McHugh said she was also bothered by the fact that 28 percent of students said it’s not wrong to pick a fight and 22 percent of them said their parents felt the same way. In addition, 50 percent of students said it was not wrong to beat up someone who started a fight; 32 percent felt that cheating was justified in some instances and 30 percent had felt sometimes that “life was not worth it.”

In all, 52.8 percent of students reported they had used alcohol at least once; 38.6 had used it in the last 12 months, and 20 percent said they had used it within a month of the survey.

The figures for marijuana were 23 percent lifetime, 17.3 percent in the last 12 months and 11.6 percent for the month prior to the survey.

Of the students surveyed, 3.9 percent said they had tried amphetamines; 1.6 had tried barbiturates; 3.9 had tried cocaine; 2.0 had tried crack cocaine and 3.3 had tried Ecstasy. In addition, the percentage for lifetime use of heroin was 1.6 percent, for inhalants, 10.7 percent, for LSD, 5.7 percent and for methamphetamine 1.3 percent. In all, 6.9 percent of the students had tried nitrites, 11 percent had used pain relievers, 1.3 had tried steroids, 2.7 percent had tried stimulants and 3.9 percent had tried tranquilizers.

Eighty percent of the students in grades 11 and 12 had tried alcohol in their lifetimes and 50 percent had tried marijuana at least once.

Among 11th-graders, 75.5 percent had alcohol in the last 12 months and 42.9 had it in the last 30 days. The numbers for seniors were lower, with 58.6 having had it in the last 12 months and 34.5 in the month before the survey. For seniors, all of those numbers were down from six years ago.

In fact, among almost all drugs, the lifetime usage by seniors was down, in some cases dramatically.

Beyond alcohol and marijuana, the drugs most commonly used by seniors were pain relievers (21.4 percent), LSD (13.8), nitrites (13.3) and amphetamines (13.3).

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