Youth and the Anti-Drug Message

September 29, 1993

The results of a statewide health survey show just how pervasive beer and wine use is among Howard County public school students.

Not only did 65 percent of Howard's middle and high schoolers surveyed report that they have tried beer or wine, close to two-thirds of those students said they did so by age 14.

This news seems not so much startling as mystifying, especially in light of the school system's on-going effort to warn students against drug usage as early as kindergarten.

That message appears to be having more impact outside of Howard County.

In the only example comparing Howard students with students statewide, the survey shows that by December 1992, nearly 85 percent of Howard students had tried beer or wine during the previous 12 months, while only about 22 percent of sixth-graders statewide had done the same.

By 12th grade, 86 percent of Howard youngsters had at least experimented with beer and wine, according to the survey, while 72 percent did so statewide.

The survey also indicates that while alcohol appears acceptable to a large number of Howard students, marijuana and other drugs thankfully do not. Among the approximately 900 students surveyed, 84 percent had never used marijuana; 88 percent had never used an inhalant such as cocaine.

Those are heartening statistics, even as they show that a small percentage of students have succumbed to serious drug usage and are in need of counseling.

Students may be getting the most consistent message against using drugs from their schools, including curriculum at all grade levels and special programs such as DARE and SHOUT, which incorporate police and peer-group counseling. Students continually need specific suggestions in how to say "no" to peers without being ostracized.

Where the message truly becomes murky is outside the school halls, especially in advertisements, on television and, yes, in our homes.

There, alcohol and other spirits are presented as the acceptable drug -- so much so that even though 95 percent of 12th graders say they know better than to drink and drive, 50 percent also reported having been in a car driven by someone who was drinking.

Until we clarify that message to our young people, these sorry statistics will not go away.

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