Howard youths smoking, drinking less, using speed, Ecstasy more, survey finds

October 02, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County youths apparently are smoking fewer cigarettes, chewing less tobacco and drinking less beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages than they were three years ago.

But they're popping far more Ecstasy and speed, using more inhalants and, in some cases, smoking more marijuana and ingesting more cocaine or PCP.

The news, contained in a survey released last week by the Maryland Department of Education, is worrisome to Howard County educators, parents, police and justice officials.

"I'm encouraged to see some of the drugs are down, but they're still not where they ought to be," school board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said.

The Maryland Adolescent Survey was given to more than 34,500 students in 298 schools across the state in April. Eighty percent responded.

It asked schoolchildren about their use of such substances as cigarettes, alcohol, LSD, marijuana, crack, Ritalin and steroids, and about their knowledge of those drugs, the availability of the drugs and the children's views on safety in their schools.

The last such survey was conducted in 1998.

Since then, the new survey found, cigarette smoking in Howard County has dropped in grades six, eight, 10 and 12, and sixth-, eighth- and 10th-graders are drinking less beer and chewing less tobacco.

Similar decreases were found in the use of hard liquor and Ritalin. Tenth- and 12th-graders said they were smoking less marijuana. Eighth- and 10th-graders reported smoking less crack.

Although the use of such substances as beer, wine and tobacco is down in that category, the use of harder drugs such as PCP, methamphetamines and speed is up.

Of particular concern is the rise in Ecstasy use, especially among seniors. The percentage of 12th-graders who said they had used Ecstasy in the previous 12 months more than doubled, from 4.8 percent to 11.6 percent.

The proportion of seniors who said they had used the drug in the previous 30 days almost doubled, from 2.9 percent to 5.3 percent.

The number of eighth- and 10th-graders who said they had used Ecstasy in the previous 12 months, the previous 30 days or ever also increased.

"This is not just `kids will be kids,'" said board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French. "These are a much more serious variety of drugs."

School board members said they were concerned about the survey's youngest participants, sixth-graders. In that group, the number who said they had used inhalants within the previous 30 days was almost triple the number in 1998.

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