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Parents beware: Alcohol, tobacco use up among high school students

Statistics of the 2009-2010 Pride Survey show that alcohol and tobacco use remains prevalent among the area’s high school population – specifically among sophomores and seniors.

Superintendents of the county’s three school systems presented the results Thursday to a group of area religious leaders. Each year, students in grades six through 12 are questioned about the prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use, the perception of risk, age of first use and other indicators of substance abuse patterns.

Andalusia Superintendent Ted Watson, Covington County Schools Superintendent Terry Holley and Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart each agreed that while “ a lot more students don’t do drugs than those that do, we don’t need to wait to educate our students on the dangers.”

“If you were to lay all of our results down on top of each other, it would be unreal how the statistics would match up,” Watson said. “This is not a centralized problem. It’s everywhere.

“At school, we educate,” he said. “(Students) know drugs will kill you. When students have a change of heart, they change. There’s no amount of education that will change that. That’s why it’s so important to have involved parents, involved ministry and community involvement.”

In each of the systems, the average age students first tried the three drugs was 11. Students mostly use the drugs at a friend’s house at night or on the weekend.

Smithart said the most startling statistic for his system was that only 61.3 percent of seniors think of marijuana as harmful.

“The most important thing that this survey showed us is that if we’re waiting until health in high school (to teach the effect of drugs), we’re too late,” he said. “We need to tailor that education to get them before the age of 11. We need to get our kids involved, because studies show a child who is involved makes good grades and stays out of trouble.”

In Andalusia, statistics were presented that tracked the same groups from then sixth graders to seniors, and that a total of 689 students were surveyed – 99 in sixth grade; 117 in seventh; 124 in eighth; 110 in ninth; 94 in tenth; 90 in eleventh; and 55 in the twelfth.

Alcohol use by those students increased from 27.4 percent in the sixth grade to 70.4 percent as seniors; tobacco use, 17.9 percent to 53.7 percent; and marijuana use, 4.2 percent to 51 percent.

Of juniors surveyed, 52.2 percent admitted to alcohol use; 38.9 percent to tobacco use; and 14.4 percent to marijuana use. Other highlights include, 60.9 percent of sophomores polled admitted to alcohol use and 43.5 percent to tobacco use.

In the Covington County School System, 1,402 students were polled – in the sixth grade, 233; seventh, 242; eighth, 207; ninth, 193; tenth, 184; eleventh, 190; and in the twelfth, 153.

Admitted use of tobacco increased from 13.4 percent of sixth graders polled to 49.7 percent of seniors.

Nearly 58 percent of both sophomores and seniors surveyed admitted to tobacco use, with 24.2 percent of sophomores admitting to marijuana use. There were 24.2 percent of juniors and 23.7 percent of seniors polled who also admitted to marijuana use.

Students’ perception of risk was exceeded 85 percent in regards to alcohol; 66 percent in regards to tobacco; and 74 percent in regards to marijuana.

“Our children are born innocent,” Smithart said. “When they become teenagers, they start to assert their independence. They are hard -wired to take risks.”

Smithart said, of Opp’s results, the survey “exposed some significant problems,” and that parents and friends should serve as “positive role models” for students.

“The information was quite startling,” he said. “But education is not the answer (to fight drug use). They all know that drugs can kill, what alcohol can do to you, what tobacco can do. We can educate all day long, but if it’s not coupled with substantial life changes, it’s ineffectual.”

In Opp, a total of 586 students were surveyed – in the sixth grade, 72; seventh, 89; eighth, 104; ninth, 103; tenth, 88; eleventh, 88; and in the twelfth, 62.

In the area of tobacco use, 56.5 percent of seniors surveyed admitted to tobacco use; 52.9 percent of juniors; 38.8 percent of sophomores; 45.9 percent of freshmen; 28.2 percent of eighth graders; 31.5 percent of seventh graders, and 8.5 percent of sixth graders.

Alcohol use was most prevalent among high school seniors, with 72.6 percent admitting to alcohol use. Those percentages varied with 52.9 percent of juniors, 38.8 percent of sophomores and 45.9 percent of freshman admitting to usage. Students in junior high school also aried from 6.5 percent of sixth graders, 31.5 percent of seventh graders and 28.2 percent of eighth graders.

Admitted marijuana use was low for middle school students, with less than 6 percent of eighth graders admitting usage; 2.2 percent seventh graders and 1.4 percent of sixth graders; however, those numbers jumped to 35 percent of the 62 seniors who said they use marijuana.