Citing a community effort to counter teenage drinking, the Youth Task Force announced last week that a youth behavior survey shows a decrease in alcohol use by Island teens, though the rates are slightly higher than the national average.
But they also cited concern about a rise in marijuana use, saying that the legalization of marijuana has contributed to increased use by teenagers. The survey showed high schoolers using marijuana at rates much higher than the national average.
“We’ve seen great success in lowering our alcohol use rates,” Youth Task Force coordinator Theresa Manning told the Gazette. “I definitely want people to see that because there’s been so many committed community members who have put in so much work to try to make that happen, and they’ve been successful.”
“[Marijuana and prescription drug use] are areas I think the community should be aware of,” she said, adding that kids are reporting that they don’t think their parents will be as upset if they use marijuana as if they use alcohol, and they don’t see it as harmful.
The Martha’s Vineyard Youth Risk Behavior Survey, given every two years since 1999 to students in grades seven through twelve, offers a wealth of information about student use of drugs and alcohol.
Participation in the survey, which was completed by 303 middle school and 524 high school students, is voluntary and the results are anonymous and confidential. About 60 surveys were eliminated as invalid or dishonest, and Ms. Manning emphasized that the survey is reputable.
The Youth Task Force is funded by grants from Drug Free Communities and the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. The task force board went over the results last Thursday with representatives from Island police departments, schools, and other organizations on hand.
Data showed that about seven per cent of middle school students and almost 42 per cent of high school students reported using alcohol at least one day in the last month. The high school average was higher than the state rate, which was 40 per cent, and the national average of almost 39 per cent.
The 2010 survey showed that 43 per cent of high school students reported using alcohol in the last month, which was lower than the state and national averages at that time.
Ms. Manning told the Gazette that there has been a community effort to decrease teenage drinking. “I think we have a community of parents who are feeling stronger and have a better tool kit to holding the line,” she said, adding that partnership with police departments and social marketing have also helped.
“I think all of it sort of revolves around positive messaging and support for parents and kids.”
Of high schoolers who said they drank alcohol in the last month, the highest number (19 per cent) said they got the alcohol from a friend who is 21 years or older, followed by from a friend who is younger than 21 and then from a parent without permission. For middle school, the top source for those who said they drank was from their mother or father, with permission.
But the increase in marijuana use was much higher, Ms. Manning said. While four per cent of middle schoolers reported using marijuana once in the last 30 days, 38.5 per cent of high schoolers reported using the drug in the last month. The state high school rate was 28 per cent, and the national average 23 per cent.
In 2010, the high school reported rate for marijuana use was 34 per cent.
Nearly 13 per cent of high school students reported using marijuana on school property in the last thirty days. Thirty-four percent of high school students reported riding in a car in the last month driven by someone who had been using marijuana, and 13 per cent reported driving when they themselves had been using the drug.
When students were asked about perceived parental disapproval for substance use, marijuana had the lowest disapproval rates. Sixty-eight per cent of high school students said they believed their parents thought it was “very wrong” or “wrong” to smoke marijuana. Ninety per cent of middle schoolers reported the same.
By comparison, alcohol and cigarettes had perceived parental disapproval rates of more than 80 per cent for high school students and more than 90 per cent for middle school students.
Marijuana was also listed as having the most perceived acceptability among students.
“We decriminalized marijuana in 2008, and so our kids in high school . . . they believe it’s not even illegal,” Ms. Manning said, referring to state referendum that decriminalized marijuana possession of less than one ounce. “It’s not illegal, it’s quote-unquote natural.” She said the recent state approval of medicinal marijuana could add to this perception. “I think we’re challenged with the fact that we’ve gone an additional level by calling it medicine . . . our kids are growing up in an environment where they will believe that. I think that has definitely contributed to an increase [in use].” Ms. Manning said use of marijuana at a young age “really does in fact have a profound affect on impairing the brain development,” and that marijuana today is more potent than it was in the past. Ms. Manning said she was also seeing an emerging trend with prescription drug use. “We used to say prescription drugs aren’t really an issue for our kids,” she told the board. “I think looking at this it’s definitely emerging as a concern.”
About nine per cent of high school students and three per cent of middle schoolers reported using prescription drugs without a doctor’s order in the last 30 days.
Cocaine use, at one per cent in middle school and almost four per cent in high school, was below the state and national average. About one percent of high school students reported using heroin. Inhalant use was higher: nine per cent of middle schoolers said they used an inhalant at least once in their lives, and almost 11 per cent of high school students reported the same.
More than 67 per cent of high school students said it was “easy or sort of easy” to get alcohol, compared to 37 per cent of middle schoolers. High schoolers said access to marijuana was easier, with more than 73 per cent saying it was “very easy” or “sort of easy” to obtain that drug. About 31 per cent of middle school students thought it was easy to obtain marijuana.
Prescription drugs were seen as harder to obtain, with about a quarter of high school students and 12 per cent of middle schoolers saying they were easy to obtain.
Susan Mercier, a member of the Edgartown and high school boards, said she found the prescription drug use most “disconcerting. That number scares me to be honest.”
Ms. Manning pointed to tobacco use as one area where the survey showed better results. Twelve per cent of high schoolers and one per cent of middle schoolers reported smoking a cigarette in the last 30 days, a rate that was lower than the state and national averages.
Going forward, Ms. Manning said the organization is looking more to prevention than enforcement. “I think educating parents particularly about those differences and about the research around the health risks to smoking marijuana for kids will hopefully be our best avenue for curtailing it.”
She said the task force will continue a dialogue at parent dinners for each grade at the high school, and will continue to bring speakers to the Island. The coalition will also continue to work with partners, like law enforcement. “We always say we don’t expect to eliminate drug and alcohol use in our community,” Ms. Manning said. “But we do want to strengthen the safety net and we want it to be harder . . . we want to not turn a blind eye to use or feel as though it’s a rite of passage or something we all did when we were growing up.”