Kids may still think that “everyone is doing it,” but fewer teenagers in Wasco County are drinking alcohol and using tobacco than in previous years, according to the results of a survey. The results of the state-sponsored PRIDE survey, which was taken in March by area sixth, eighth and 11th grades, were recently returned to the counties.
“I feel really good about the numbers overall,” said Debby Jones, YOUTHTHINK coordinator.
Jones said it is important to look at trends over years rather than from year to year because different classes have different personalities and demographics. She said looking at the data since 2004 shows an overall trend in tobacco use going down, marijuana use going up and alcohol staying fairly steady.
However, there was a dramatic change in several alcohol-related numbers from 2011 to 2012. The number of eighth graders who had never used alcohol rose from 34 percent to 50.7 percent and the number of high school juniors went from 26 percent to 43.7 percent. Sixth graders went from 63 percent to 69 percent from 2010 to 2012 (they didn’t take the survey in 2011).
Binge drinking (defined as four beers in one sitting for women and five beers for men) dropped from 9.2 to 2.3 percent of sixth graders, 19.9 to 13.3 percent of eighth graders and 25.5 to 15 percent of 11th graders.
Jones said she is hoping next year’s results will show the positive numbers are a trend instead of a fluke.
“This could be an exceptional class,” she said. “The incoming senior class has a lot of leaders.”
Alcohol use in the last 30 days went from 17.5 to 8 percent of sixth graders, 28.6 to 18.4 percent of eighth graders and rose from 29.5 to 31.7 of eleventh graders.
Tobacco use decreased from 4.9 to 2.9 percent in sixth grade and 13.5 percent to 4.6 percent in eighth grade but rose from 7.3 to 9 percent for 11th grade.
More students are smoking marijuana than tobacco. The number of sixth graders who have used marijuana in the last 30 days went from 5.5 to 5.3 percent, eighth graders went from 19.4 to 14.9 percent and 11th graders went from 20.7 to 14.3 percent.
Jones said despite a mostly good report, the numbers that were troubling to her were perceptions of the risk of drugs and alcohol. The students who said there was moderate to great risk in using marijuana dropped about 10 percent in each grade and fewer students also saw a risk in alcohol. She said attitudes toward marijuana are becoming more and more permissive which indicates that the number of students who have used marijuana before will probably be going up in the next few years.
She said the teens’ attitudes about marijuana are reflective of society’s increasing acceptance of it and said she suspected it was also linked with the growing number of medical marijuana cardholders. In Wasco County alone, the number of cardholders went from 76 in 2005 to 485 in 2011, and Jones said the more people who have cards the more opportunity there is for abuse.
The survey numbers show YOUTHTHINK where to focus their efforts. Jones said in the fall they will be rolling out some new programs at the school, especially focusing on preventing marijuana use and teaching students about the real consequences of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
“I would love to tell them if they smoked marijuana their skin would turn green and their ears would fall off, but we have to give them the facts,” she said. “They don’t want to be lied to and if you do it once you lose all credibility.”
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t plenty of consequences to share. Jones said one new program for next year, created by a member of the doping committee for the Olympics, shows scientific evidence of how alcohol and drug use affects athletic performance for days or even weeks after using. One study shows that getting drunk cancels out as much as 14 days’ worth of training. Another shows that marijuana stays in the brain and central nervous system for an entire month, hindering important athletic traits like judgment and coordination even after the athlete is no longer high.
Jones said YOUTHTHINK is just one organization fighting against teen drug and alcohol use and doesn’t deserve all of the credit for good numbers.
“These successes are not just because of us. The schools and churches and parents and grandparents are really stepping up,” she said.