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Student drug use higher than average

October 12, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - A 2007 state survey of nearly 1,000 Franklin County students showed their use of alcohol, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco was above the national average.

The 2007 Pennsylvania Youth Survey Report from the county questioned 988 students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades about their use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

The report showed more than 58 percent had used alcohol at some time in their lives, with the figure dropping to 25.3 percent for use in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Cigarette use was 34 percent lifetime and 17.4 percent for the 30 days prior to the survey.

The Waynesboro, Greencastle-Antrim, Tuscarora, Fannett-Metal and Shippensburg school districts took part in the survey, said Jodi Wadel, the director of Franklin-Fulton Drug and Alcohol. Chambersburg, the largest district with about 9,000 students, did not take part, she said.

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There was uncertainty about whether the district or the state was supposed to pay for the survey, and it was not resolved in time to participate in it, Sylvia Rockwell, Chambersburg's director of information services, said Thursday.

There is no trend line here, Wadel said. Although the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency conducts the survey every two years, the Waynesboro Area School District was the only one in the county to participate in 2005.

"This is the first year we were able to get really good data across the school districts," Wadel said. Waynesboro used data from the 2005 survey in developing drug and alcohol programs for its students, she said.

As would be expected, the use of alcohol or other drugs in most cases rises with the ages of the students surveyed, although 24.5 percent of sixth-graders reported some previous use of alcohol. The figures rises to almost 78 percent among high school seniors.

The use of inhalants, such as glue or solvents, to get high decreases with age as other drugs become more available, Wadel said.

"You outgrow Glade," she said.

A separate national survey on drug use estimates there are 11,450 people ages 12 and older in Franklin and Fulton counties with substance abuse disorders, Wadel said at a community forum last week. As for illegal drug arrests, 73 percent are for marijuana possession, followed by 16 percent for possession of heroin and other opiates.

Less than 3 percent of those with substance abuse disorders seek treatment through Franklin-Fulton Drug and Alcohol, "the payer of last resort" for the uninsured and people whose insurance does not cover treatment, Wadel said.

"What we tend to do is serve the same folks over and over again," Wadel said. The agency is trying to reach out to more people with prevention and intervention services, she said.

"Forty percent of high school students do not think it is harmful or dangerous to try heroin just once," and 25 percent do not believe it is addictive if snorted, prevention specialist Lauri Davis told those at the forum.

The survey showed 1.1 percent lifetime use of heroin among the students and 3.5 percent lifetime use of cocaine.

One good sign is tobacco compliance checks, Wadel said. Fewer than 1 percent of the time did retailers sell tobacco products to minors in those compliance checks, she said.

Franklin-Fulton Drug and Alcohol has a work group that meets monthly to develop strategies to educate adults and children on how resist or refuse alcohol and drugs, Davis said.

Some of the current programs include:

· Keeping It Real, taught by Student Assistance Program liaisons, teaches middle schools "resistance and refusal skills."

· Project Alert teaches middle school students about the dangers of gateway drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and inhalants.

· The Reality Tour follows "the life and death of a teen who has chosen to use drugs" and is held monthly at the courthouse.

· Teen Scene Investigation teaches about the signs of drug use and the ways children will try to hide it from their parents.

Davis said she uses a mock teenager's bedroom for this program. Flip-flops and peanut butter jars with hidden compartments are among the "hidden safes" that children can buy to hide drugs and alcohol, she said.

Risk factors for children in the two counties include families in which there are favorable attitudes toward drug and alcohol use and initial use at an early age, Wadel said.

Just having parents talk to their children about the problems of drugs and alcohol greatly can reduce the chances of them developing substance abuse problems, Davis said.

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