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More sixth-graders taking drugs

June 20, 2000|By TARA REILLY

Sixth-graders in Washington County are taking more drugs, drinking more alcohol and smoking more cigarettes, according to the recently released 1998 Maryland Adolescent Survey.

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The results are in comparison to the 1996 survey and reflect a state and nationwide increase in drug and alcohol use among sixth-graders.

The report, which was presented to the Washington County Board of Education Tuesday night, indicates the use of crack, heroin, PCP, steroids, amphetamines, tranquilizers, methamphetamines and narcotics including morphine has increased among county sixth-graders.

The survey is given every two years to a random cluster of students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12. Of the 1,276 sixth-graders enrolled in the county, 285 were given the survey, while 275 of the 1,282 students enrolled in eighth grade, 350 of the 1,117 enrolled in 10th grade and 365 of the 972 enrolled in 12th grade were tested.

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Despite the increase among county sixth-graders, the drug and alcohol use is equal to or below state averages, according to the report.

"It's a trend across the county that students are starting to use at a younger age. It's not just in Washington County," Bonnie Forsythe, schools health resource teacher said. "It's not just a public school problem. It's a community problem.

Forsythe and Andrea Harris, prevention coordinator for the Washington County Health Department, said they think the overall report is a positive for the county.

"The 12th-grade data was particularly encouraging," Harris said.

Eighth-graders are higher than state averages in all reported categories except cocaine use. Tenth-grade students are above the state average in LSD use, while 12th-grade students are above the state average in cocaine, LSD and cigarette use but below in all the rest.

Alcohol use also increased among eighth-graders but decreased among 10th- and 12th-graders.

The survey, however, indicates that more than 60 percent of county 12th-graders reported being drunk in their lifetime, while 54 percent said they have ridden with a drunken driver in the last 12 months. More than 32 percent said they have driven while under the influence of alcohol in the past year.

The report also suggests there are significant differences among users and nonusers in how they perceive their relationships with their parents.

Nonusers were much more likely to report that an adult was always at home to make sure they wake up for school, parents worry if they're late getting home from school, parents have rules about people they can be with, parents talk and listen to children about problems or drugs, family eats together daily and family does a weekly activity together.

Users, on the other hand, reported that they can talk family out of punishment and change the mind of an adult to get their way.

Students also were polled on how safe they think their communities are. Students reported feeling safe in schools, going to and from school and in their neighborhoods. All grades, however, reported feeling more safe in their neighborhoods than at school.

Forsythe and Harris said there are several options the community can undertake to help combat the adolescent drug, alcohol and tobacco use, including implementing the DARE program in fifth grade rather than sixth and promoting drug resistance in elementary schools.

"We're trying to catch it early and be productive," Harris said. "The report gives us a good area to focus our attention and focus our resources on."

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