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Published: Saturday, 5/17/2008

Substance abuse by Wood County youth in decline

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Alcohol remains the drug of choice for youth in Wood County, but the author of the county's biannual survey on substance abuse said he's encouraged by the declining numbers of students who are smoking, drinking, and using drugs.

"I'm really pleased to report that substance abuse among Wood County adolescents is down in all age groups" over 2004, which was the first year the survey was conducted, said William Ivoska, vice president of student services at Owens Community College.

Results from Lucas County, which began conducting these surveys in 1990, are expected to be released next month. But according to Lucas County's last study released in 2006, the number of youths smoking or drinking alcohol was at all-time lows since the first survey near two decades ago.

The Wood County survey was taken over the winter by more than 9,800 students in grades 5-12 from the county's nine public school districts and Penta Career Center. It was funded with $10,000 from the Wood County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.

Mr. Ivoska said that while cigarette smoking reached a high of about 42 percent in the country and in nearby Lucas County in 1998, the rates have dropped so much that "future reductions are less likely to occur."

In Wood County, 12th graders' use of cigarettes dropped from 27.2 percent in 2004 to 18.4 percent this year.

In Wood County's latest survey, alcohol use for local 12th graders dropped from 70.1 percent in 2004 to 66.8 percent - a figure Mr. Ivoska said was "still too high even though it's lower than it's ever been." The 2008 figure was slightly higher than the 65.8 percent who reported using alcohol when surveyed in 2006.

A big concern, Mr. Ivoska said, was the number of students who reported binge drinking - consuming five or more drinks in a row.

"Even though the number of drinkers is down, it appears those who do drink, drink with a purpose. They're drinking to get drunk," he said.

For the first time, the survey also asked youngsters about their consumption of caffeine-packed energy drinks. A shocking 66.9 percent of 12th graders and 46 percent of fifth graders reported using caffeinated energy drinks - a trend Mr. Ivoska said bears watching.

"It seems a young person is as likely to drink a Red Bull as a Coke," he said.

Students reported using marijuana - the most commonly used illegal drug - at lower rates than in 2004 in all age groups. LSD "has really dropped off the charts," Mr. Ivoska said, while there is "very minimal use" of heroin in Wood County, and the use of cocaine is declining.

While the survey's focus has traditionally been on substance abuse, this year students in grades 7-12 also were asked about their mental health.

The results of those questions were correlated with the students' responses about substance abuse, which resulted in the not-so-surprising conclusion that the more troubled a youngster described him or herself, the more likely he or she was to use drugs and alcohol. Such students also were more likely to think about or attempt suicide.

Bill Donnelly, clinical director for the Children's Resource Center in Bowling Green, said 10.6 percent of the students surveyed fell into the categories of "severe" or "intense" levels of mental health problems.

"That's one in 10 of our students," Mr. Donnelly said, adding that it's believed that nationwide, about 20 percent of youth have diagnosable mental health problems, although only 3 percent to 4 percent receive some kind of mental health treatment.

Lorrie Lewandowski, coordinator of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention services for the Wood County Educational Service Center, said she was encouraged by the fact that 51 percent of high school juniors and seniors said they did not use any substances in the past year.

"The majority of our youth are not using, so let's engage them to be leaders," she said, adding that parental attitudes and community involvement also are keys to reducing the use of alcohol and drugs by youngsters.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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