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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

Lucas County youth alcohol use continues decline

BY MATTHEW EISEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A biennial survey shows continued declines in alcohol use among Lucas County youths, a general downward trend that began in 1996.

"We're finding the same consistent declines across the board," said William Ivoska, co-author of the survey and vice president of student services at Owens Community College. "That's a very positive signal."

In Lucas County, alcohol use dropped among 12th graders from 82.8 percent in 1996 to 67.3 percent in 2008 - the lowest percentage since the survey was started nearly 20 years ago - though Mr. Ivoska acknowledges that "alcohol has always been the largest prevalence and the [drug] we're most concerned about."

Use of marijuana and several other illegal substances such as LSD and methamphetamine was also at its lowest point in the last decade among nearly all age groups.

Despite those decreases, Mr. Ivoska, and others at the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County, which conducted the 2008 survey, remain concerned about a smaller number of students using prescription drugs.

Ritalin use is at an all-time high, jumping among 12th graders to 11.5 percent this year from 6.8 percent in 1998.

The survey also revealed youths using painkillers - the most prevalent of the prescription drugs - at a lower rate than in 2006, but still at 17.6 percent among 12th graders in 2008.

Mr. Ivoska said easy access to prescription drugs serves as one of the biggest problems.

"Kids can get at narcotic painkillers, they can get at methylphenidate because their brothers or sisters [have] it or their parents have it in their medicine cabinets," he said.

Robert Kasprzak, manager of prevention and early intervention services for the mental health board, said youths he interacts with in focus groups do not always understand the true effects of prescription drugs.

"They do have this impression that it's just medicine and it can't hurt me," he said. "I really don't think they know what they're taking."

Organizers used results from nearly 25,000 students in grades 5-12 who took the 2008 Youth Survey in December. The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County - a merger of the former Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board and the Mental Health Board - oversees the survey.

Questions concerning the consumption of energy drinks appeared for the first time on the 2008 survey. Drug prevention coordinators in Lucas County schools alerted survey authors about a growing prevalence of the drinks that often contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee.

"We talked about the increase of kids taking energy drinks, so we thought we should at least start building a baseline to see where that goes and to see how that might affect other variables," Mr. Ivoska said.

In Lucas County, 68.5 percent of 12th graders and 59.2 percent of 8th graders reported consuming caffeinated energy drinks.

Mr. Kasprzak said he hears stories of youths dangerously mixing energy drinks with Ritalin to improve focus or crashing at school after a caffeine-induced high.

Only cigarettes seemed to buck the downward trend among the most recognizable drugs in the survey. At 20.8 percent, the 2008 figure shows the slightest of increases in use among Lucas County 12th graders from 2006, though it's still a 50 percent decline from 1996.

Mr. Ivoska said he does not expect any major reductions of cigarette use in the future.

"You're getting down to the level where you probably won't drop much more," he said. "You're going to get to the level where the chronic users are going to continue to smoke."

According to Karen Olnhausen, director of child behavioral health and prevention services for the board, the survey results also help leaders decide where to allot funding.

In addition to questions about drugs, Lucas County students since 2006 also have answered questions about their mental health. The data showed a significant relationship between depression and substance use.

Mr. Ivoska cited cooperation in Toledo as one reason for some of the declining numbers.

"What I think is unique about Toledo is that there's a collaboration between the [mental health board], the school systems, and the other providers of mental health services that have worked together to have interventions to help make kids more resilient," he said.

Contact Matthew Eisen at:

meisen@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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