Alcohol, drug survey startles school officials Wide use found among students

September 28, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Howard County students know it's wrong to use drugs and alcohol, but they use them anyway, particularly beer and wine, starting as early as middle school, according to results from a recent state health survey.

The Maryland Adolescent Survey, conducted last school year, found that 65 percent of the middle and high school students surveyed had tried beer or wine, and close to two-thirds of those same students had done so by age 14.

It also found that roughly 50 percent of students had drunk liquor, and about two-fifths of those students had done so by age 14. And 55 percent had smoked cigarettes, about two out of five by age 14.

The findings follow a statewide pattern that shows that most students who use drugs and alcohol start in middle school.

The December 1992 study surveyed more than 18,000 students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades across the state. In Howard County, more than 900 students in five middle and six high schools responded.

School officials called the results a "wake-up call" for parents and the community who must work together to educating students about substance abuse.

"The data reflects the acceptance of beer and wine in society," says Phyllis Utterback, an assessment supervisor for the school system who presented the findings at last week's school board meeting.

School officials said they were startled by student behavior involving drinking and driving.

On the one hand, the survey found that more than 95 percent of Howard County high school seniors said they should take car keys away from someone who has been drinking. But more than 50 percent of students reported being a passenger in a car whose driver had been drinking. And more than than 25 percent reported driving while under the influence of alcohol.

"Clearly, we have to do more in that arena to let kids know that is a risk they ought not to be taking," said Mamie Perkins, health education supervisor. "Even if they have not been drinking, now they're getting into cars with people who are."

She said scare tactics, such as graphic depictions of people involved in drinking and driving accidents, have some effect in changing student behavior, but not as much as educational classes.

Students need to know how to refuse drugs and alcohol without embarrassing themselves in front of peers who offer them, she said.

The county schools have programs to educate students about drugs and alcohol at the fifth grade, middle school and high school levels.

Ms. Perkins quickly plans to disseminate results of the study through the PTA, health educators and the police department.

She also will review the elementary school substance-abuse curriculum to better prepare students against the pressure to start using drugs and alcohol in middle school.

Among the study's specific findings:

* Roughly 40 percent of 10th- and 12th-graders reported they were offered the chance to get or buy alcohol while they were on school premises. About 30 percent of them were offered the chance to get or buy drugs in school.

* Outside of school, alcohol was available to close to 30 percent of eighth-graders, almost 50 percent of 10th-graders and more than 60 percent of 12th-graders.

* Cigarettes were available to almost 25 percent of eighth-graders, about 30 percent of 10th-graders and 40 percent of 12th-graders.

* Drugs were available to about 13 percent of eighth-graders, more than 25 percent of 10th-graders and 40 percent of 12th-graders.

* Many students who used alcohol and drugs spent much of their time with friends who were older than they were. About 70 percent of students who drank alcohol, and more than 50 who smoked cigarettes, had friends who were at least a year older.

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