Board discusses study of drug use by students

November 27, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Harford County children are starting to drink alcohol at a later age than they used to, but they're still an average of 11 1/2 years old when they take their first sip of beer or wine, according to a state survey.

They start using marijuana, on average, at age 13 1/2 , the survey said.

Overall, it said, county students are using alcohol and marijuana at a higher rate than other children in Maryland are.

The figures -- from the state's 1992 Maryland Adolescent Drug Survey, the most recent student information available -- were given to the Harford school board last week during a presentation of five-year plans for pupil services. The survey was first released at a statewide conference on drug-free schools in College Park in 1993.

Laurie J. Dawson, assistant supervisor of the Drug-Free Schools Program, told board members that although the numbers are disturbing, a similar survey four years ago showed that county students began drinking at age 9.

"The prevention curriculum is expanding," Ms. Dawson said, explaining a possible reason for the rise in the age when drinking begins.

In 1992, 1,157 Harford students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 took the voluntary, anonymous survey.

The biennial survey, which started in 1988, will be conducted again Dec. 6 throughout Maryland. Those results will be released in May.

The questions are administered to a representative group of students and schools. "The students are at all academic levels to get clear results," Mrs. Dawson said.

In 1992, 42.2 percent of Harford's 12th-graders said they had used marijuana during the previous year, compared with 27.6 percent of the students statewide. About 14 percent said they had used LSD, compared with 10.6 percent statewide, and 80 percent said they had drunk beer and wine, compared with 72.2 percent statewide.

About 13 percent of the Harford sixth-graders said they had smoked cigarettes within the previous 12 months, compared with 11.2 percent statewide; 35.7 percent of county eighth-graders said they had smoked, compared with 26.4 percent statewide; 36.8 percent of the county's 10th-graders said they had smoked, compared with 35.8 percent statewide; and 43.4 percent of the county's 12th-graders said they had smoked, compared with 41.9 percent throughout Maryland.

The survey also found that:

* The most commonly abused drug by Harford County seniors is alcohol.

* More than half of Harford's seniors indicated they had participated in binge drinking -- at least five drinks during a single occasion -- at least once during the previous year.

* About 30 percent of the seniors said they had driven under the influence of alcohol.

All county children in kindergarten through grade 12 receive drug abuse education and drug prevention information. Some positive signs Mrs. Dawson cited to the board include expanded drug support groups at several county high schools, STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) programs for parents and the introduction of the STARS (Students Taking a Stand) program.

In STARS, students in some county high schools have decided (( to replace SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk) with a stance favor of drug and alcohol abstinence.

Harford school officials say in their five-year mission statement that their goal is to make county schools drug-free by 2000. Goals call for expanding and enhancing the drug education and prevention programs for students, parents and teachers; providing up-to-date instructional materials; and evaluating school drug policies for possible revision, including mandatory counseling for students and parents when a child is suspended for drug use.

The problem with achieving those goals is dwindling money, Mrs. Dawson told the school board.

Drug-Free Schools' federal grant money will be reduced by 25 percent in the 1995-1996 school year, and money from the schools' operating budget or county funds will be needed to compensate for the reduction, she said.

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