Many students bingeing on alcohol State's seniors report more drug use than national norm.

October 24, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

A survey released today shows that overall drug use among Maryland's high school seniors declined from 1988 to 1990, but dTC more than half of the 12-graders said they used alcohol during the month before answering the questionnaire last December.

Furthermore, one out of three seniors who reported using alcohol also said that they had consumed five or more drinks on one occasion during that month.

"We are quite concerned about binge drinking among Maryland adolescents," said the authors of the Maryland Adolescent Survey Report. "Across all grade levels, attention must be paid to the number of students who engage in binge drinking . . . " the report said.

The current use of drugs other than alcohol or tobacco went down from 1988 to 1990 from 22.8 percent to 20.4 percent among seniors, the report said. However, Maryland seniors continue to report higher levels of drug use than seniors nationwide.

The numbers of 12th-graders who used alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and PCP dropped from 1988 to 1990, but cigarette smoking and use of all other drugs, including LSD, amphetamines and heroin, increased, the survey said.

Statistics for middle-school students are even worse.

The current use of all drugs except marijuana and cocaine increased from 1988 to 1990 among Maryland's eighth-graders, with the use of amphetamines more than doubling from 1.8 percent to 4 percent.

A total of 5.9 percent of sixth-grade boys claimed to have been arrested for using drugs, the survey showed.

Among sixth-graders, only the use of cigarettes, alcohol and cocaine dropped; the use of all other drugs was up. More sixth-graders reported experience with inhalants than with tobacco. And the use of tobacco, alcohol and inhalants for many students begins before age 12. Initial use of liquor and marijuana generally occurs at 13 to 16, the survey said.

The survey was released at Golden Ring Middle School by the state Department of Education, the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. The administration paid for the survey, which cost $80,000.

The first survey was taken in 1973 and now is given bi-annually to a randomly selected, representative population of Maryland's sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students. The 1990 survey was given to about 14,000 students throughout the state's 24 public school systems.

Survey questions focused on the nature and extent of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use among students in 1990; demographic, familial and peer factors associated with substance use; students' perceptions of the physical and psychosocial consequences of substance abuse; and students' knowledge about substances.

Maryland high school seniors are at or below national levels for use of cigarettes, alcohol, amyl or butyl nitrates, marijuana and all forms of cocaine and are above the national sample's levels of inhalants, crack, steroids, amphetamines, methamphetamines, heroin, other narcotics, PCP and LSD.

Gender differences in drug use appear to be decreasing, according to the 1990 results. The largest difference across the grades was among sixth-graders who have used alcohol. Twenty-six percent of boys claimed to have ingested beer, wine or wine coolers but only 19.9 percent of sixth-grade girls said they had done so.

This is the first year the survey does not include a county breakdown of adolescent drug use. Michael Gimbel, director of Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse, said that makes the information inadequate.

"I don't care what the national average is, or even what the state average is, for that matter," he said. "The bottom line to the drug problem is neighborhoods and communities." Those figures are needed, he said, "to make the numbers meaningful. The state is being too diverse. . . . The local numbers are really important, because geographically, everything is different. . . . If I were a parent [of a student], these figures would mean nothing to me."

But Debbie Somerville, specialist in pupil services and project director for the survey, says the statistics in the survey are representative of all Maryland schools.

"They all have drug problems," she said. "Maybe my neighborhood is a little higher or lower, but this is what kids are doing. Parents need to see the problem is out there."

Gimbel said he is especially distressed over the increase in drug use the survey shows among sixth- and eighth-graders, saying the figures indicate a need for education to encompass all drugs, not just cocaine, alcohol and marijuana.

"It makes me feel like we're not doing very well," he said. "I think we have to evaluate what we're teaching in the middle-school years, because whatever we're teaching, it's not working that great. These numbers are pretty frightening."

Gimbel also questioned the accuracy of a study based solely on the answers that students give to a 205-question survey.

"The fact that 6.1 percent of sixth-graders said they had driven under the influence of drugs make me seriously question the validity of the survey," he said.

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