Use of drugs, alcohol among teens falls

State links decline to educational efforts

Baltimore & Region

October 27, 2005|By LIZ BOWIE | LIZ BOWIE,SUN REPORTER

Drug and alcohol use among Maryland middle and high school students has significantly declined in the past decade, although sixth-graders reported they are drinking and smoking cigarettes slightly more than they did two years ago, according to a 2004 survey of adolescents released yesterday.

The survey, which has been conducted by the Maryland Department of Education every two years since 1994, showed a nearly 50 percent decline in the use of alcohol and a significant decline in smoking cigarettes among eighth- and 10th-graders. Officials credit the declines to a mandatory education program instituted in the past 15 years in all grades in all public schools.

But state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she was hardly satisfied with the results, which still show alcohol being widely used by students across the state. For instance, nearly 70 percent of 12th-graders said they had tried alcohol, and 44 percent they had used it in the past month.

Even worse, binge drinking was not unusual. More than a quarter of seniors surveyed said they had had five or more drinks on one occasion in the past 30 days.

Marijuana was the second-most-used substance for eighth, 10th- and 12th-graders. Forty-three percent of 12th-graders reported they had tried marijuana at some point, and 22 percent reported they had used it in the past 30 days.

While the percentage of teenagers using drugs and alcohol was similar among most of the Baltimore metropolitan counties, the picture was different between suburban and urban children.

Drug and alcohol use was generally much lower in the city than in Baltimore County at nearly every grade level. Only 24 percent of city 10th-graders said they had had a drink in the past month, compared with 39 percent in Baltimore County and 35 percent in Anne Arundel County.

That finding is not unexpected, said Michael M. Gimbel, director of substance abuse at Sheppard Pratt Health Systems. "It is part of the misconception of drug use in Baltimore City," he said. In general, drug use is among adults, not teens. Teens tend to sell the drugs but not use drugs.

Among teenagers, he said, the use of harder and more exotic drugs is more common in the suburban counties than in the city.

Those hard drugs - including LSD, heroin, Ecstasy and methamphetamines - are being used more frequently by eighth-graders across the state. In Carroll County, heroin use nearly tripled, although the individual numbers were still small.

The increase in sixth-graders' use of alcohol and cigarettes was slight, up by less than a percentage point in both categories. Among sixth-graders, 5.4 percent said they had used alcohol in the past month, and 1.5 percent said they had had a cigarette. Nevertheless, Gimbel called the trend "alarming," particularly because alcohol and cigarettes kill more people every year than any other drugs. "I don't think this should be taken lightly," he said

State education officials want to determine why the numbers are rising. One hypothesis is that an emphasis on testing and achievement in classrooms during the past five years has reduced the amount of time spent on drug and alcohol education, said Milt McKenna, a state board specialist on safe and drug-free schools.

Older students may have gotten a larger dose of drug education over the years, said McKenna, who intends to review the issue.

Maryland first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich spoke at the state board meeting where the statistics were released, saying parents should spend more time monitoring their children's behavior. "The news is out. You are not supposed to be your kid's friend. You are supposed to be their parent."

Teenagers who used drugs often reported that they did not have a parent at home who talked to them about not using drugs.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Gina Davis contributed to this article. To access the complete report, go to baltimoresun.com/adolescent.

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