Trends matter in the eyes of those who work in drug prevention. In Chisago County, this year’s Community Partnership Student Survey data, complied with 2013 results, shows trends that note more students in the county are making the responsible choice to not use drugs and alcohol.
Executive Director of Chisago County Community Partnership Tom Koplitz presented the results of the survey at Community Partnership’s March 26 meeting.
He explained the survey, which Community Partnership has organized for years, is voluntary; any student can opt out and any student’s parent can opt them out.
Students in sixth, ninth and 12th grade in schools across the county completed the survey.
“This year, there were about 12 kids that didn’t take the survey in Chisago County, which is incredible,” Koplitz said. “This is a thorough survey; 1,417 students participated in this year’s survey, which is 40 very straight-forward questions.”
The survey asks students about their usage of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines and prescription drugs over the past 30 days, their perception of risk, perception of parental disapproval, perception of peer disapproval and average age of onset.
Koplitz described the 30-day usage graph that was drafted with survey data as the “shining star” of this year’s report.
Across the board, usage of the five substances is lower or flat compared to previous years. The decreased use of alcohol by students has been substantial.
“Going back to 2006, 56 percent of 12th-graders in the county used alcohol in the past 30 days, and now that number is down to 39 percent,” Koplitz said. “That is very good news and impressive from the 12th-graders in our county.”
He also noted perception of parental disapproval of drug an alcohol use is “pretty much off the charts” and perception of peer disapproval is also high.
Koplitz explained average age of onset is a key indicator as to whether or not a person will have drug or alcohol problems later in life, so getting the message across to kids that those substances are potentially harmful is very important.
“If kids haven’t used in the last 30 days, if they think something is risky or harmful, if they perceive their parents disapprove, if they perceive their friends disapprove, and if their average age of onset is late, past 18, they stand almost no chance of having problems later in life with drugs or alcohol,” Koplitz said. “If the kids start earlier, 14 or 15, they stand a very high chance of having problems related to drugs or alcohol. Research has been very clear on that issue through the years.”
Even with the positive results of the survey, Koplitz said he’s concerned about one drug in particular: marijuana.
“I’m envisioning the (percentage of youth using marijuana) going up over the coming years with the medical marijuana conversation going on,” he said.
Koplitz said he thinks kids might see marijuana as “medicine” and thus safe to use, which is a potentially dangerous mindset.
He also noted he’s met people who work with student groups who think the only factor that determines the percentage of students in a particular grade who use drugs and alcohol is the individual students who make up the grade, not prevention efforts.
Chisago Lakes Middle School health teacher Corey McKinnon said he doesn’t think that’s the case.
“Trends matter,” he said at the meeting. “I would say if you were seeing spikes, peaks and valleys, … that would be the case, but there’s something very consistent here with these graphs. The numbers are going down.”