Fairfield junior high and high school students aren’t using drugs or drinking alcohol as much as they once had — but they are still using, according to a Fairfield Prevention Coalition survey.
And though heroin — a drug that has killed thousands of Ohioans — is not a commonly used drug among youth, it is still used.
Of the Fairfield students surveyed (3,380 this past November), 0.2 percent admitted to using heroin over the previous 30 days. Two years ago that number was 1.7 percent, and 2.5 percent four years ago.
The most recent survey results fall in line with national data where less than 0.1 percent of children between 12 to 17 years old used heroin in 2016 and 2015, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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“We do not see a very high level of heroin use among youth and we’re very happy to see that,” said Deb Neyer, Fairfield Prevention Coalition executive director.
“What we find is that heroin is not a drug of initiation (among youth), but opiates are with youth,” Neyer said.
The ease of availability of prescription drugs went up from 2014 to 2016, but is on a downward trend, according to the coalition’s survey, and Neyer said that “is another one of those early indicators that subsequently leads to a shift in (regular use).”
Regular alcohol use is down by 9.1 percent over the past decade among Fairfield students. Tobacco is down by 11.7 percent and marijuana use is down by 3.5 percent, also over the past decade. Prescription drug use is down by 3.2 percent over the past four years.
“The good news is, most youth are not using,” said Neyer. But she said junior high is not soon enough to start talking to children about drugs. The average age a child first uses drugs or alcohol is 12 and 13 years old, depending on the drug.
Nationally, alcohol and tobacco use are also down, however marijuana use has grown which is a driver to other illicit drug use, according to the SAMHSA.
“Regardless of age, the illicit drug use estimate for 2016 continues to be driven primarily by marijuana use and the misuse of prescription pain relievers,” according to SAMHSA’s 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. “Among people aged 12 or older, 24 million were current marijuana users and 3.3 million were current misusers of prescription pain relievers.”
Neyer said those in the coalition were “shocked” marijuana use was down because of the abundance of news about legalizing the drug, the growing number of states allowing either medical use or recreational use of the drug, and the increase in public opinion polls showing support of legalizing the drug at some level — especially millennials.
Neyer said the downward trend for drug and alcohol use in Fairfield is because teens listen. Parent and peer disapproval numbers for drug use are up across the board. Peer disapproval for alcohol use is slightly down, by 0.3 percent.
“As much as we think teenagers don’t listen to us, teenagers listen to each other, they listen to their peers and the number one influence in a teenager’s life is their parent,” she said. “Kids listen to kids … kids listen to parents.”
And the disapproval is “an early indicator” that use will drop further, she said.
“This typically proceeds major shifts in use,” Neyer said.
Fairfield City Schools Superintendent Billy Smith said he and other school officials are “encouraged” by the decrease of drug and alcohol use by his student body.
”As a district, we will continue to collaborate with the coalition to evaluate how we may continue to positively influence the students and families that we serve,” he said. “The survey and the work of the coalition has proven to be invaluable for our students and families.”
One area of concern is a lack of understanding nationally by teens of the dangers of vaping, which Neyer said many believe it is just harmless flavored water vapor via an e-cigarette or a vape pen.
“In some parts of the region it has surpassed alcohol as the most widely used substance,” Neyer said. “We are not seeing that yet in Fairfield, at least in the data. Anecdotally we are hearing about it, but we’re not seeing it in our objective data, yet.”
According to the coalition’s survey, 10.8 percent of Fairfield students admitted to vaping in the previous 30 days. That’s down by 3 percent from 2016. Besides nicotine, there are chemicals and metals like acetaldehyde, acrolein, formaldehyde, isoprene, nickel, cadmium, lead and acetone (nail polish removal) in the vapes.
Neyer fears breathing the chemicals from an e-cigarette or vape pen “normalizes” the act of breathing stuff into one’s lungs, and the Fairfield Prevention Coalition members and drug prevention activists believes, “It opens that door of that unusual behavior of breathing stuff into your lungs,” like THC, the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana.
“A lot of people have absolutely no idea this is what they’re breathing,” Neyer said.
Many teens in Fairfield are using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis, but it’s declined over the years, according to the Fairfield Prevention Coalition’s bi-annual survey.
2008: 22 percent
2018: 12.9 percent
2008: 16 percent
2018: 4.3 percent
2008: 12 percent
2018: 8.5 percent
2014*: 6 percent
2018: 2.8 percent
* Data not collected until 2014 survey
Source: Fairfield Prevention Coalition