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Published: Wednesday, 6/12/2002

Local youth alcohol and tobacco use is on decline

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Fewer Lucas County youths are smoking or drinking alcohol than at any time in the last 12 years, according to a countywide survey to be released today.

Keith Dankert - one of those surveyed - is not surprised.

“From what I've seen, it's declining,” said the 17-year-old, who will be a senior this fall at Bowsher High School. Among his classmates, the number of smokers has declined too, he added.

“There's so much information about cancer and all that stuff,” he said. “People think [smoking] is stupid.”

Every two years since 1990, the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lucas County has surveyed almost every student in grades five through 12 in the county. The board is the only one in Ohio to undertake such a survey.

A total of 34,165 students were surveyed this year in every public school and most private schools. Charter schools were not included.

The percentage of youths who acknowledged in the anonymous survey that they smoke, drank alcohol, or took other drugs went down in almost every category since the last survey in 2000, and figures in many areas are the lowest they've been since 1990.

For example:

  • The percentage of seniors who reported they smoked cigarettes in the last month is 29.2 percent. That's down from 38 percent just two years ago, and substantially lower than the high of 42.4 percent in the 1996 survey.

  • Marijuana use among seniors in the last month was reported at 25.8 percent, compared to 30.1 percent in 1996.

    The numbers are not all positive. The percentage of 12th graders who tried cocaine in the last year rose slightly from 4 percent in 1990 to 5.3 percent in 2002. In addition, newer types of drug abuse are emerging.

    For the first time, students were surveyed about the abuse of cough medicine, painkillers, and the “club drug” ecstasy.

    Cough-medicine abuse, which is more common among younger teens, was reported by 15.8 percent of 9th graders. The abuse of ecstasy, a stimulant which first became popular at “rave” parties, was reported by 9.2 percent of 12th graders, and 18 percent of 12th graders said they abused painkillers such as oxycontin in the last year.

    The local survey results are similar to national figures. The University of Michigan conducts a national survey on drug and alcohol use among teens on behalf of the federal government. The Lucas County survey, which costs $32,000 and is funded by the board, the Lucas County prosecutor's office, and the Toledo Police Department, uses many of the same questions as the University of Michigan survey.

    In December, the university reported that smoking and drinking rates dropped across the country. For example, the university's national survey found that 29.5 percent of 12th graders asked in 2001 said they smoked in the previous month, down from a high of 36.5 percent in 1997.

    Local drug and alcohol prevention experts are thrilled with the declines recorded in the 2002 survey, but warned about complacency.

    “When the rates of use by young people are going down, it's a blessing,” said Jay Salvage, executive director of the ADAS board. “I think this demonstrates that if you do a concentrated effort with prevention you can make a difference.”

    “My general thought is, `Gosh, that's really, really good news. But the only thing that worries me is our levy [for the ADAS board] just failed. And whenever we divert attention and resources away from this, our numbers seem to go right back up,” said Bruce Johnson, director of chemical dependency for Connecting Point of Toledo, a nonprofit agency that treats teen substance abusers.

    Nancy Rice, director of prevention services for the ADAS board, added that while abuse rates have declined, the community still needs to ask whether they're low enough.

    “For example, the binge drinking rate for seniors is still at around 40 percent,” meaning 40 percent of seniors had five or more drinks at one sitting in the last month, she said. “Is that acceptable for our community?”

    For the first time, students responding to the survey were asked their race or ethnicity, and some local prevention experts said the public may be surprised by the findings.

    Drug and alcohol abuse is often falsely believed to be an inner city and minority problem, but the survey showed that minorities are not always hit hardest by drug and alcohol abuse. For example, 77 percent of white seniors said they drank alcohol in the last year, compared to 58.7 percent of black seniors. Just over 31 percent of white seniors said they smoked within the last 30 days compared to only 10.3 percent of black seniors.

    Latino students reported abuse rates as high - or higher - than whites. The percentage of Latino 12th graders who smoked was the same as whites (31.2 percent), but the percentage of Latino 12th graders who reported they drank in the last year was 87 percent. Latino 12th graders also reported higher percentages of marijuana use in the last year; 48 percent compared to 40 percent for whites and 36 percent for blacks.

    “When you consider what Latino students have to go through in our public school system, it doesn't surprise me,” said Louis Escobar, Toledo councilman and executive director of Adelante, Inc., a nonprofit social service organization targeting the Latino population.



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