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Survey board balked at bid to add questions on teen sex

Lucas County has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. From 1997 to 2000, the county experienced the biggest increase in sexually transmitted disease rates among Ohio's six biggest counties.

But when local health department officials tried to add three questions about teen sexual activity to a semi-annual student survey that has primarily dealt with drug and alcohol abuse, survey administrators just said no.

Barbara Gunning, director of health services for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, told the health board last month that the county Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services board would not add the questions.

“I was reaching a concrete wall,” she told the board.

Health board members were annoyed at the resistance.

“What, they don't think it [teen sex] exists?” board member Dr. Donna Woodson responded.

“Get your head out of the sand. This is ridiculous,” board member Joan Mossing added.

Since 1990, most Lucas County students have been surveyed by ADAS every two years about drug and alcohol abuse. The survey is considered invaluable by many local drug prevention officials because it reaches almost every student, thus improving accuracy of the results.

Ms. Gunning said ADAS board officials allowed her to add about 20 questions to the most recent survey, which was conducted in October. Those questions included questions about nutrition, suicide, seat belt use, and firearms. But she said the drug-and-alcohol board balked at adding questions about teen sexual activity: whether they have had sex and how old they were if they had; the number of sexual partners they had; and if they used any methods to prevent pregnancy.

“We had no problem adding some health-related questions, but any questions perceived to be a little more controversial we'd just need more time to determine if those would be a good fit,” said Jay Salvage, executive director of the ADAS board.

He said the survey started out as a drug and alcohol survey and school officials have been so helpful and open in allowing his agency in to do the survey he did not want to jeopardize a good working relationship. He added that he alone made the decision, and he was not pressured by school administrators.

Mr. Salvage said after some more discussion about the questions, it is possible teen sex questions could be added when the survey is done again for 2004.

Ms. Gunning said that was the same message relayed to her last week.

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