Fewer teenagers abusing alcohol, tobacco

Survey shows uptick in marijuana, prescription pills

The use of tobacco and alcohol remains on the decline among teenagers in Butler County, but marijuana use among young students has increased slightly, a regional survey shows.

And for the first time since administering the PRIDE Student Drug Use Survey in the Cincinnati region, students were asked about their use of prescription drugs and how accessible they are. Regionally, Mary Haag, president and CEO of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati, said 6.5 percent of students reported using prescription drugs in the past 30 days that were not prescribed for them.

The increase in use of marijuana and prescription pills is reflected in the downturn of the economy and efforts toward legalizing marijuana, according to the Butler County Coalition. Dan Urra, project manager at the local coalition, said due to the worsened economy, some families have turned focus from maintaining nightly family dinners to finding a job and health care.\

Haag said it will take about two more cycles of the survey to develop a trend on the prevalence of use.

“I thought (the rate of prescription use) would be lower because it’s more of an adult problem,” Haag said.

Local and regional agencies are in the midst of analyzing data from the 2012 PRIDE Student Drug Use Survey, conducted by the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati, which was administered in the fall of 2011 to more than 57,000 students in grades 7-12 in a 10-county region of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Since the first biennial survey conducted in 2000, Haag said alcohol and tobacco use have each declined by 43 percent, according to the regional data. She said that trend has been mirrored nationally in the past 12 years.

But the worry for Haag and other officials has been the flat or increasing use of marijuana among teenage students. Overall for the region, marijuana use has declined 27 percent since 2000, despite a 1 percent increase this year.

Haag said teenagers face a lot of mixed messages about marijuana. She said police agencies, parents and schools stress to young people that marijuana is illegal and can have harmful effects. But, nationally there are 17 states which have had ballot initiatives or legislation to legalize the drug. A ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio is expected to be on the ballot in 2013.

“When we look at the perception of harm, (students) are confused about marijuana,” Haag said.

Karen Murray, director of the Butler County Coalition, said the survey data is useful in showing the risk factors facing teenagers and which prevention campaigns the Coalition should focus efforts on. Murray said the rate of marijuana use among teens in Butler County now exceeds the regional rate — which rose about 1 percent this year, after a six-year decline from 2004 to 2010.

“It’s a far more analytical, scientific approach,” said Tom Kelechi, CEO of the Alcohol & Chemical Abuse Council of Southwest Ohio. “It’s more precise in targeting where (drug and alcohol use) is happening so we can target parents because most of it’s being done at home or at a friend’s home.”

Haag said a contributing factor to the declining usage of alcohol and tobacco is that it’s getting harder for teens to find. In 2000, 63 percent of students surveyed said it was easy or very easy to get alcohol — the rate decreased to 47 percent this year.

More than 15 percent of Butler County youths reported using alcohol either at home or a friend’s house, according to survey results.

Murray said an interesting finding in the most recent survey showed that the influence of parents was higher than that of peer pressure. Haag said it’s a strategy of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati to have parents establish open communication with children about drugs.

“Get parents to talk and set clear boundaries and limits and enforce them,” Haag said. “Parents are still the primary influence.”

Chrissy Hutzelman, chemical abuse specialist for Hamilton City Schools, said there are many efforts made by the district to educate students and parents about drugs and alcohol and offer positive reinforcements. The schools’ Character Education program teaches students about making good decisions in all aspects of life including healthy choices for the body and treating others right.

“The biggest thing is the kids aren’t using at school,” Hutzelman said. “The problem is some are doing it at home.”

Hutzelman said Hamilton is one of many school districts to distribute monthly Know! newsletters to about 800 parents including tips on how to broach topic such as drugs, alcohol and depression with their children in grades five through eight.

Each year, Hamilton sends two female and two male student-athlete leaders to the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation in Colorado. Hutzelman said the week-long program offers training for the students to influence their peers positively. She said those students will then travel to the elementary and middle school classrooms to spread their message.

“A lot of time when a student starts seeking out drugs and alcohol it’s to cover up other things they are struggling with,” Hutzelman said. “When they find a group to latch onto it’s not always the best one.”