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Published: Friday, 4/28/2006

Lucas County students report lowest usage of alcohol, cigarettes

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who spearheaded the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign during the 1980s, would be proud.

The percentages of Lucas County youths smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol this year are at their lowest levels since surveying in the county began in 1990, and the percentage of youths smoking marijuana is at nearly the lowest level in a decade.

Those were the key findings released yesterday from a countywide survey of nearly every 5th through 12th-grade student.

"There's a lot more good news than bad news in this survey. We're really seeing some significant improvements," said Thomas Bartlett, director of the Lucas County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, which pays for most of the $35,000 survey.

How significant? Consider the survey results from a decade ago.

Back then, 42 percent of high school seniors reported they smoked cigarettes in the previous month. In this year's survey, half as many (21 percent) did.

In 1996, 30 percent of high school seniors reported they smoked marijuana in the previous month, and in this year's survey, only 24 percent did.

Finally, alcohol use in the last month by high school seniors has gone from 60 percent in 1996 to 51 percent in this latest survey.

The results are considered quite accurate because almost every 5th through 12th-grade student in public, private, and charter schools is surveyed, meaning about 27,000 Lucas County students took part.

Lucas County youths aren't alone in saying "no" to drugs. A similar study done in Wood County is expected to be released next week and is expected to show similar results.

Local anti-drug advocates said it's hard to pinpoint why fewer students are abusing drugs and alcohol, but they have a couple of theories.

"Students will always use less when they feel there's a fear of harm. And that rate of perceived harm has been going up," said Bill Ivoska, vice president of student services at Owens Community College and one of the study's co-authors. "Just look at all the advertising [against] cigarette smoking. It's become less socially acceptable, and peer disapproval is a big [influence]. If your peers disapprove, you're less likely to use it."

Nick Piazza, a University of Toledo professor who is the other co-author, warned that preventing drug abuse "is a constant battle, and you can never rest on your laurels."

Nevertheless, he said he was pleased with the continued downward trends.

Deacon Dzierzawski, executive director of the anti-drug Lucas County Community Partnership, agreed.

"We're doing something right in this community," he said, adding that local efforts in schools and elsewhere deserve some of the credit.

Mr. Ivoska said it's probably fair to attribute some of the large decline in smoking to the millions spent in Ohio in recent years on the "stand" youth anti-smoking campaign funded by the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation.

Beth Schieber, the foundation's spokesman, said yesterday that "we certainly believe and hope 'stand' has contributed to it, though you never know for sure. But there are a lot of different studies that show countermarketing like 'stand' is effective."

One could wonder how much more effective the foundation could be if it spent as much as it had originally intended. The foundation spends about $10 million annually, and has about $50 million in the bank, on countermarketing.

That money comes from Ohio's $10 billion settlement with tobacco companies, a large portion of which was supposed to go to the foundation. But the legislature has diverted $568 million of the foundation's funding to school construction, auto emissions testing, and other purposes in recent years.

Ms. Schieber said the money the foundation did get is still more than many states have to work with, so her group is doing the best it can.

Use of other drugs among high school seniors, for example, continues to be relatively low though there are some areas of concern.

Cocaine use in the last year among high school seniors was reported at 7 percent, up slightly from 2004 and the highest level since 1990.

Abuse of the prescription medication methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin or Concerta, was reported at 11 percent among high school seniors in the last year, again the highest level since reporting began.

Contact Luke Shockman at:

lshockman@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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