Alcohol and drug use has declined in some categories among Carroll County students the past two years, but increases in other areas are cause for concern, school officials said.
"It's a mixed bag," said Joanne M. Hayes, substance abuse prevention coordinator for Carroll schools, as she presented county results of the 1996 Maryland Adolescent Survey yesterday.
The biennial report is used to determine the trends in use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs by youth across the state.
"Even though there are slight declines in many categories, some of these numbers are still of great concern," Hayes said. "The fact that over 50 percent of kids are smoking in 12th grade when they know what they're doing to their body really bothers me."
Joyce Tierney, the county's substance abuse prevention coordinator, said the survey shows that Carroll students are using "entry level" substances, such as alcohol and tobacco.
"That's where our numbers are," she said. "And we know these students are at higher risk to go out there and use drugs."
As an example of the "mixed bag" results, the 1996 survey of Carroll students showed that the number of 12th-graders who have tried alcohol has declined slightly since 1994. But 62 percent of the seniors surveyed reported that they have engaged in "binge drinking," meaning they have had five or more drinks at one time.
"Those numbers are way too high," Hayes said. "It [binge drinking] opens them up to all kinds of high-risk behaviors. It's truly alarming."
The Maryland Adolescent Survey questions students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 about their use of 22 substances, their perceptions of the risks involved and attitudes of family and friends.
The latest survey, which is voluntary and anonymous, was conducted on Dec. 10, 1996. Surveys were sent to 1,064 students from the county's five high schools and six of its seven middle schools. The response rate was 81 percent.
"The results would have to be characterized by substance and grade level," Hayes said. "It's not possible for me to say it went up across the board or down across the board."
For instance, cigarette use among seniors decreased from 65.3 percent to 54.2 percent. And 13 percent of sixth-graders said they had tried smoking at some point, indicating a 5 percent increase from 1994.
"Cigarette smoking is a real red flag," Hayes said. "These students are ignoring everything they've learned about smoking cigarettes since they were very young children."
The survey results show that marijuana use increased slightly among sixth- , eighth- and 10th-graders. But 12th-graders reported a decreased use of the drug since 1994, from 45.6 percent to 42.5 percent.
However, the reported rate among seniors in the 1992 survey was 27.7 percent.
From 1990 to 1992, Hayes said, an attitude shift occurred, in which the dangers of substance abuse were minimized. Funding also decreased, nationally and locally, for prevention education and advertising.
This development led to higher rates of drug use among adolescents, a trend that was reflected nationwide and in Maryland's 1994 survey.
Hayes and others who work in the field of substance abuse in the county said yesterday that it's important to involve parents in drug prevention efforts. But the subject is a touchy one for many baby-boomer parents who experimented with drugs during their teen years.
"As a society, we need to say it's not a rite of passage for kids to go out and drink," Tierney said.
Olivia Myers, executive director of Junction, an addiction treatment center in Westminster, encouraged parents to attend the agency's prevention program to find out about effective ways of discussing drug use with their children.
"It's a tough topic to talk about and you have to do it," Myers said. "I think parents are scared to death."
Pub Date: 5/28/97