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Survey: Student marijuana use up
Still, two-thirds don't smoke pot, say results of survey in county

Monday, May 14, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The percentage of Henry County Schools high school students who say they smoke marijuana every day has increased dramatically in the last few years, and some other measures of marijuana use also have increased significantly, all mirroring national trends.

But Katie Connelly, community organizer for prevention for Piedmont Community Services, said it’s important to point out that when the drug survey was most recently done early this school year, about two-thirds of students said they did not smoke marijuana. She said that’s a comparatively high percentage for nonuse, and it shows that despite what may be a perception otherwise, not everybody’s doing it. Social norms in the community contribute to the high nonuse percentage, Connelly said.

According to Pride Surveys (a drug use survey) statistics provided by Connelly and Bonnie Favero, prevention manager for PCS:

• The percentage of 10th- and 12th-graders in Henry County Schools smoking pot every day was 9.7 percent this school year, compared with 5.1 percent in the 2009-10 school year. That’s a 90 percent increase.

• The percentage of 10th- and 12th-graders in the county schools who smoked pot in the past 30 days was 23.5 percent this school year, compared with 16.8 percent in the 2009-10 school year. That’s a 28.5 percent increase.

• The percentage of 10th- and 12th-graders in county schools who had used marijuana in the past year was 33.8 percent this school year compared with 27 percent in the 2009-10 school year. That’s a 20 percent increase.

Among high school students, only 10th- and 12th-graders were surveyed.

Comparable drug use statistics were not available for Martinsville Schools, but historically, city schools statistics are similar to the county’s, Favero said.

The trends for marijuana use among Henry County teens are similar to national trends.

A new national report by The Partnership at Drugfree.org (and sponsored by MetLife Foundation) covers the period of 2008-11. According to a news release, the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) shows:

• Past-month heavy use of marijuana (at least 20 times) increased 80 percent from 2008-11. In 2011, 9 percent of U.S. high school students (nearly 1.5 million) smoked marijuana heavily.

• Past-month use is up 42 percent (up from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2011, which translates to about 4 million teens).

• Past-year use is up 26 percent (up from 31 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2011, which translates to about 6 million teens).

“The last time marijuana use was this widespread among teens was in 1998, when past-month use of marijuana was at 27 percent,” the release says.

Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, stated in the release: “These findings are deeply disturbing as the increases we’re seeing in heavy, regular marijuana use among high school students can spell real trouble for these teens later on. ... Heavy use of marijuana — particularly beginning in adolescence — brings the risk of serious problems, and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well. Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

Connelly and Favero agreed with Pasierb’s comment. Connelly and Favero wrote: “In our area, teens who smoked marijuana were more than twice as likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as gang involvement, other illegal drug use, thinking of suicide, being in trouble with the police and carrying a gun to school.

“According to a 2010 Service to Science survey of local high school students, those students involved with the CHILL program had 0 percent 30-day use of marijuana.”

CHILL is a program for area high school students in which they learn about effects of substance abuse, serve as good role models for their peers and organize drug-free activities, said Connelly, coordinator of CHILL and HEY (Helping Engage Youth) Community Coalition. HEY is an adult group that partners with CHILL, which stands for Communities Helping Improve Local Lives.

The news release said the PATS data also found an erosion of anti-marijuana attitudes among teens, with only about half of teens (51 percent) saying they see “great risk” in using marijuana, down significantly from 61 percent in 2005.

Favero said she believes a decline in the perceived harm, or risk of marijuana is the single biggest reason for the increase in marijuana use among Henry County high school students. When the most recent Prides Survey was done early this school year, a little more than half of Henry County Schools 12th-graders (51.5 percent) indicated they perceive marijuana as harmful and 59.7 percent of 10th-graders did, according to statistics Favero and Connelly provided. Favero said those percentages are down significantly from years past.

In fact, the survey early this school year showed that more Henry County students in grades 10 and 12 smoked marijuana (22.9 percent) than cigarettes (18.1 percent), Favero said.

“I truly believe more than anything” the local increase in teen marijuana use is due to a decline in “perception of harm. When it goes down, use goes up. That’s a scientific fact,” Favero said.

In the survey early this school year, significantly more Henry County 10th- and 12th-graders perceived alcohol and tobacco as harmful, compared with marijuana. According to statistics Favero and Connelly provided, 81.7 percent of 10th-graders and 82.4 percent of 12th-graders perceived tobacco as harmful; 75.5 percent of 10th-graders and 75.9 percent of 12th-graders perceived alcohol as harmful.

Favero and Connelly said they believe the local decline in the perception of marijuana as harmful is due to such factors as discussion about the legalization of medical use of marijuana in a number of states; the entertainment industry’s portrayal of characters smoking pot, making it look cool; and public misperceptions and lack of knowledge about today’s marijuana, which is more potent than marijuana of years past and may be laced with other drugs, such as opium and cocaine.

Favero said, for instance, some young children think marijuana is legal because it’s natural. They also may think it’s legal to smoke it when you’re age 30 or so because they see their parents smoking it, she said.

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said a school resource officer he talked with had not observed an increase in marijuana use. The SRO indicated “the predominant thing in schools ... is still pills,” Perry said.

Perry said, “It’s not related to the schools, but marijuana arrests in the general public have increased.” He added there have been more seizures of marijuana locally over the last year or so.

According to information Connelly and Favero provided, a total of more than 800 10th- and 12th-graders in Henry County Schools participated in the Pride Survey drug use survey early this school year. Connelly said the survey has been done annually the last few years and before that was done every other year. She said most students voluntarily participate in the survey. One way the survey tries to ensure students answer honestly is by asking the same question in a number of slightly different ways, she said.

The surveys are administered anonymously and have been found to produce highly reliable information, according to the Pride Surveys webslte.

 

 
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