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Student substance abuse drops

Diane Watson said last week that tenth-graders at South Whidbey High School are a "wonder class."

Watson, director of student support for the South Whidbey school district, made that statement while reporting the results of the "Healthy Youth Survey 2002" at a South Whidbey Board of Education workshop April 14.

The voluntary survey asks students to respond to a broad spectrum of questions, including their attitudes, perceptions and behaviors related to drugs and alcohol and school atmosphere. The questions relate to the 30 days prior to the test.

Watson said the results of the survey show a group of students who are generally not interested in using drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

"The current tenth-grade class is very resilient, stronger and more resilient to substance abuse, alcohol and tobacco use," she said. "They just say no."

Watson based her comments on percentage numbers from this year's survey, compared to data generated by tenth graders taking the survey in 2000 and 1998. For example, the current survey data shows 70.9 percent of the students answering questions on alcohol abuse reported abstaining from drinking during the previous month. In 1998, that number was 45.7 percent.

There were 138 usable surveys from the tenth-grade class. Half of the questions related to substance abuse, while the remainder dealt with health issues. The survey was given to sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students.

In three categories -- binge drinking, cigarettes and marijuana use -- nearly 90 percent of 10th-grade students surveyed indicated no use during the previous 30 days. About seven students indicated that they did drink during that period.

Watson reported to board members that prevention in the earlier grades seems to be paying off. She reported that all of the sixth-graders surveyed reported no use of cigarettes, marijuana or smokeless tobacco, and only two said they used alcohol during the 30 days prior to the test.

The one area of concern locally and statewide, Watson said, is an increase in the use of methamphetamine.

"Here on South Whidbey there is a 5-percent increase in meth use since 1998, or about eight students out of those queried admitting to using the drug within the last 30 days," Watson said.

In the lower grades, four students in the eighth and four in 10th admitted to using meth.

"Any increase in meth use is alarming, because of the issues around it. It's very addictive and will cause irreparable harm to the user.

Island County Sheriff's Office deputies have responded to five meth production sites in Island County since the beginning of the yea. None of them was on South Whidbey.

Contacted after the meeting for information, Russ Lindner, Island County's chief criminal deputy said the highly addictive and often-fatal drug is well established among school-age users. It is also extremely easy to make and purchase.

"Meth production has infiltrated to the teen ranks," he said. "Everybody has become a Betty Crocker with the stuff, cooking it and selling it."

The Healthy Youth survey is conducted every two years by state agencies involved in children's issues, including the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Department of Health, Department of Social and Health Services, and the Office of Community Development.

At all grade levels in the South Whidbey School District, students reported perceived availability of drugs in 2002 was up from 2000.

South Whidbey students in all grades reported that alcohol was harder to get in 2002 than 2000.

Student participation in the state survey is voluntary. Of the schools selected to serve as a representative sample, nearly 18,000 students from 98 elementary, middle and high schools completed and turned in the anonymous survey. This represents close to double the number of participants in 1998 and four times those in 1995.

Statewide, 752 districts and about 137,000 students participated. Watson said the survey gives district administration and staff the opportunity to evaluate progress toward improving in the areas of concern.

The survey is conducted every other year. South Whidbey residents interested in viewing the survey can contact Diane Watson at the South Whidbey School district office.

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