Alcohol, Tobacco Remain Popular With Students

December 01, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

County middle and high school students are far more likely to use alcohol or tobacco than illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine or hallucinogens, a statewide survey shows.

Nearly one in five says Mom and Dad probably wouldn't say anything if they knew about the drinking, while 16 percent say they probably wouldn't get in trouble with their parents for smoking cigarettes.

The statewide survey, conducted last December, asked students about their use of alcohol and drugs during the previous 30 days. Regional results of the survey were released at last week's school board meeting.

"The point is to make (the danger) real to the public at large and to parents," said Mary Dixon, health education abuse-prevention specialist for the county school system. "Alcohol is our biggest problem, and one of the reasons is that it's a legal drug for adults."

A separate survey turned up a preference among middle school students for wine coolers over beer, said health programs Supervisor Helen M. Stemler. Wine coolers generally have about 5 percentalcohol content; beer has 4.5 percent.

Drug use reported by the 664 county students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 who participated in the state'ssurvey was generally in line with state trends, county school officials said in a preliminary report to the school board at last week's board meeting.

Those trends, reported in late October by the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, are: an overall decline in high school students' use of drugs other than tobacco and alcohol; an increase in drug use among middle school students; and reports of "binge drinking," with five or more drinks on the same occasion, across all grade levels.

"The reports of binge drinking are no surprise topeople who work with young people," said Dixon.

Stemler agreed. "There's this whole expectation that you don't go to a dance, you don't go to a party, unless you're drunk," she said.

About one-third of the county students surveyed, or 241, reported at least one drinking binge. The governor's commission provided numbers on binge drinkingonly for high school seniors. Among the 52.8 percent who reported using alcohol, one in three had five or more drinks at a time in the month before the survey.

Stemler said she could not provide details on her in-progress survey of alcohol use among middle school students, but initial results among eighth-graders who have tried alcohol show that 38 percent drink wine coolers, and 25 percent drink beer.

"The problem with wine coolers is that they taste sweet and they're bottled in the same way as seltzer water," Stemler said. "They're in the refrigerator, and I don't think parents miss a bottle or two."

In addition to Stemler's survey, county school officials are seeking additional information on Howard County results from the governor's commission. The staff will use the results to spot trends that can helpthem decide what changes may be needed in drug-abuse education programs.

Available information led Phyllis H. Utterback, supervisor ofassessment, to conclude that county students recognize the risks of marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines, which more than 70 percent ratedas "very dangerous."

Fewer than 30 percent saw cigarettes or beerand wine as very dangerous; 40 percent gave that rating to hard liquor.

In other action at Tuesday's meeting, the board:

* Heard objections from two area residents to the proposed northern elementary school site, on 83 acres on Route 144 east of Triadelphia Road.

Larry L. Yeager of Thompson Drive asked the board to think about the clear-cutting of woods that will be required for the school. "You'd have to clear-cut the site to put up the building," he said, adding thatthe increased runoff will destroy wetlands on the property.

Denise Oursler, who lives across the road from the site, predicted problems for school traffic because of the nearby hill. "When you come down that hill, it's treacherous," she said.

* Decided to appeal an InterAgency Committee for School Construction staff recommendation to defer state financing of 10 school construction projects. Only the western middle school was recommended for partial state financing, although the state would give planning approval to the northern elementary school. The appeal will go to the full IAC.

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