Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows drop in alcohol, tobacco use

MANCHESTER - Results from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey released earlier this month indicate that while alcohol and tobacco use are declining among students within the Bennington-Rutland School district, the use of other drugs is remaining relatively steady.

But how accurate are the numbers? According to program coordinator with the Vermont Department of Education Kate O'Neill, the Department of Education believes them to be reliable.

"We think they're accurate and the Center for Disease Control that conducts the survey thinks they're accurate," she said. "There are lots of reasons why. ... One is there are some students who don't take the survey seriously and those surveys are thrown out. Any surveys that look like they were completed randomly are tossed. The other reason is the CDC puts in edit checks all thorughout the survey. We see consistent trends in risk behaviors. If students weren't taking the survey seriously there would be lots of inconsistencies and there just isn't."

According to the survey released by the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Education, the use of alcohol is also down. Of the 528 students at Burr and Burton Academy who participated in the survey, 36 percent reported drinking alcohol within the last 30 days. That statistic is down eight percent from the last time the survey was released in 2009.

Tobacco use has also declined among students at the school since 2009. This year 15 percent of students admitted to smoking cigarettes within the past 30 days and only four percent smoked on a daily basis during that duration. In 2009, those numbers were 19 percent and seven percent, respectively.

"We're really happy about the decrease because it shows that we're doing some things right," said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner of the alcohol and drug abuse programs at the Vermont Department of Health. "We're thrilled about the trend, [but] we still think the numbers are too high."

Over the course of the past year, Cimaglio said they've had a campaign called Parent Up, which provides parents with information and tools about how to talk to their children about alcohol and other drugs.

Executive director of The Collaborative, Maryann Morris, was also pleased with some of the results.

"There are several numbers this year that came out significantly better for our community," Morris said. "We're going to celebrate the success and I think there are some good and positive numbers in here."

Although The Collaborative may "celebrate the success," Morris said the organization will stay true to its mission and continue to provide substance free events and educate teens and the community about prevention.

While the use of alcohol and tobacco have declined over the past couple of years, the use of marijuana and other drugs has remained relatively steady. This year 27 percent of students reported smoking marijuana within the past 30 days compared to 30 percent in 2009.

The percentage of students who smoked marijuana on 10 or more days over a 30 day period also declined. This year 12 percent of students reported using marijuana on 10 or more days compared to 16 percent in 2009.

As for other drugs, three percent of students reported using cocaine within the past 30 days compared to 5 percent in 2009. The percentage of students who reported that they had ever used methamphetamines dropped from five percent in 2009 to 4 percent this year. Three percent of BBA students reported having ever used heroin this year - down two percent from last year - and the percentage of students who have ever used inhalants has remained steady at 10 percent. Only the percentage of students who have ever used hallucinogens has declined a little more sharply - down from 16 percent in 2009 to 11 percent this year.

In addition, 13 percent of students reported using a prescription pain reliever or prescription stimulant that wasn't prescribed to them and 12 percent of students reported having ever used a prescription pain reliever such as OxyContin, Vicodin, or another pain reliever that was not prescribed to them. Questions about the use of prescription pain killers did not appear on the survey in 2009.

Superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, Daniel French, said there were a couple of things that could be done to try to address the behaviors.

"Our major approach will be educational," French said. "I think the other key variable is open communication between the other partners involved including community members, parents, and other agencies. Enforcement is another key component of a successful intervention program."

French said some of the personal safety statistics were of specific concern and deserved greater study. These statistics pertained to fighting, bullying, and thoughts of suicide. According to the survey, 17 percent of BBA students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row over the past year. The numbers were significantly higher among females at 22 percent compared to 13 percent of males.

Seven percent of those students reported making a suicide plan over the past year and three percent indicated that they had attempted suicide within that time frame. Those numbers show a meager decline from the 2009 survey results which indicated that nine percent of students had made a suicide plan within the past 12 months and five percent had made an attempt in the same time period.

A difference this year was statistics for students in grades six through eight, which was the result of a middle school survey. Previously eighth graders had been taking the high school survey, O'Neill said.

"We wanted to know what's happening in risk in the younger grades," said O'Neill. "But to do that accurately we needed to use the middle school survey."

The administration of the survey to students at the middle school level - which French said in the BRSU included MEMS and The Dorset School - was one that he was in favor of.

"We're getting much more information about the middle [school] level which is really helpful," he said. "There's no simple solution to most of these issues, but the data is very helpful in understanding how students perceive the issues."

Some of the issues that French said he was interested in related to personal safety - which include such things as fighting, bullying and suicide.

This year's middle school survey showed that 48 percent of students had been in a physical fight. The overwhelming majority of those were boys at 64 percent compared to 31 percent of females.

Thirty-nine percent of students reported being bullied on school property and 20 percent said that they had been bullied in the past 30 days.

Thirteen percent of students at the middle school level reported seriously thinking about killing themselves and five percent had made a suicide plan.

As for alcohol use, eight percent of students indicated that they had had their first drink, other than a few sips, before age 11 and seven percent said they had drank alcohol in the past 30 days.

Ten percent of students reported having ever tried smoking cigarettes and four percent said that they had smoked in the past 30 days.

Nine percent of students reported having ever used marijuana and three percent said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days. In addition, three percent of students also said they used marijuana before the age of 11.

As for other drugs, three percent of students reported ever using inhalants.


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