Students who attend Wood County schools are less likely to drink or smoke than they were six years ago, but abuse of chewing tobacco, Ecstasy, marijuana, and prescription drugs is on the rise, a recent survey reveals.
The biennial study of students in grades 5 through 12, shows patterns of drug and alcohol use generally similar to national trends, and in some cases declining at a faster-than-average rate. The trend of rising consumption of certain drugs is also true in Wood County, the survey shows.
Cigarette use was lower than the national average, with significant declines between 2004 and 2010. Among high school seniors, where the rate of smoking was highest, 18 percent reported smoking cigarettes, compared with 27 percent six years ago. In eighth grade, cigarette use dropped from around 10 percent to just less than 4 percent, and for 10th graders the drop was to less than 11 percent in 2010 from 14 percent in 2004.
Use of alcohol, by far the drug most prevalent among Wood County students, also declined dramatically. More than 70 percent of seniors in 2004 reported using alcohol; that proportion dropped to just under 59 percent this year.
Among eighth and 10th graders, annual rates of alcohol use declined from 37 percent and 52 percent, respectively, to 25 percent and 47 percent. That decline was also more rapid than the national average.
William Ivoska, author of the study and vice president of student services at Owens Community College, cheered the declines in cigarette and alcohol use as a sign that drug-abuse-prevention efforts are working. He said students alcohol and cigarettes "are the two primary gateway drugs that would lead kids to worse substances."
While smoking declined, the use of chewing tobacco increased among 11th and 12th-grade boys, with one in five male seniors reporting use of it within the last month. A national study by the University of Michigan also found increases in chewing-tobacco use.
Mr. Ivoska speculated that smokeless tobacco's rising popularity could be caused by the growing expense of cigarettes and restrictions on smoking in public places. He said some students may have turned to chewing tobacco because it is easier to conceal and because the negative effects of using it have been less widely publicized than those of smoking.
Of the illicit drugs, marijuana was the most commonly used. Although use among elementary and junior high school students was relatively low, the rate shot up by 12th grade, with almost 30 percent of students smoking marijuana. That rate was just more than 1 percentage point higher than in 2008.
Lorrie Lewandowski, coordinator of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention services for the Wood County Educational Service Center, said legalization of marijuana for medical use in some states may have softened attitudes toward the drug. She said some students may no longer perceive it as risky.
Abuse of prescription drugs was one of the most notable problems revealed by the Wood County survey. Unauthorized used of narcotic painkillers among high-school-aged youth appeared considerably higher than the national average, with between 13 and 18 percent them. There was also an increase in illicit use of drugs like Ritalin and Concerta among 11th and 12th graders. Cough medicine abuse was another worry, with use among students greater than the national rate.
"I would say it's still concerning that the No. 3 misused drug is prescription drug use, and it's literally found in medicine cabinets everywhere," Ms. Lewandowski said. "When youth see it in the medicine cabinet, they don't perceive it as having a risk because it was prescribed by a doctor."
Although not widely popular, the drug Ecstasy appears to be undergoing a comeback in Wood County and nationwide. Ecstasy use rose among 10th, 11th, and 12th graders, with seniors reporting the sharpest rise since 2008 (to 5.5 percent from 3.5 percent). Mr. Ivoska said the resurgence could be a case of youth today having little knowledge of the negative consequences of the drug widely publicized during the 1990s and therefore having less fear of it.
"We need to re-educate young people about the dangers of Ecstasy," Mr. Ivoska said. "Prevention and intervention need to be constant and continuous."
The survey was conducted in February. Data were gathered in the Eastwood, Elmwood, Lake, North Baltimore, Northwood, Otsego, Bowling Green, Perrysburg, and Rossford school districts as well as at the Penta Career Center.
Each district will also be given a breakdown of its individual results.
Thomas Hosler, superintendent for Perrysburg Schools, said his main concern from the study was an apparent increase in binge drinking among 11th graders in his district, who would now be in 12th grade. He said the school plans to increase discussion with parents about the issue and will continue with drug and alcohol testing at the school.
While stating that any substance abuse is a concern, Mr. Hosler said he did not see any dramatically worrisome results in the survey.
"There wasn't anything that seemed to jump off the charts. Everything seemed to fall within what we'd seen in the past," Mr. Hosler said. "We just want to make sure we're doing everything in our power to educate kids and parents to give them a reason not to use drugs and alcohol."
In an effort to combat abuse of prescription drugs, Wood County will hold a "Prescription Take-Back Initiative" from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Sept. 25. Residents can take prescription and over-the-counter medications in solid dosage form such as tablets to five locations for disposal.
The sites are Wood County Hospital, the Wood County Sheriff's Office, the two Behavioral Connections offices, and the North Baltimore Police Department.