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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Teen drug use falls, survey shows

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer


Students were surveyed from 23 randomly chosen high schools and 23 randomly chosen middle schools in October and November of last year. A total of 3,355 students were surveyed. Their data is self-reported, and they had parental permission to share it.

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A story on Page One yesterday about an Advertiser analysis of school-by-school scores on standardized tests was based on 2005 data.

An incorrect data sort also led to faulty "top 10" lists on Page A10 accompanying the story.

Because of the incorrect data sort, two errors occurred in the story:

• Momilani Elementary was the top-performing school in reading in the lower grades, with 88 percent of fifth-graders showing proficiency.

• And 13 percent of 10th-graders demonstrated proficiency in reading at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School.

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The good news is that teen drinking, smoking and drug use have continued to decline since 2003, and Hawai'i middle and high school students have the nation's lowest incidence of sexual intercourse, according to a new state survey.

Crystal methamphetamine use among Hawai'i teens is low 4 percent and lower than the nation as a whole, and has declined in the past six years, the survey found. In 1999 ice use among Hawai'i teens stood at 7.7 percent.

But at the same time, according to the just-released 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, there are concerns:

  • Among the 3,355 students surveyed, 17.2 percent said they had made plans for suicide. Officials said that is the worst rate in the nation. The national rate is 16.9 percent.

    For the past several years, Hawai'i has been among the states in which more students plan suicide, with 13.7 percent planning it in 2003 and 15.6 percent in 2001, the last two survey years.

    Hawai'i is also among the worst five states for students feeling sad and hopeless (31.8 percent); attempting suicide (12.9 percent); and being treated following a suicide attempt (3.7 percent).

  • The percentage of overweight students is increasing, and health and education officials warn that schools need to do more to increase physical activity during the school day.

  • Hawai'i has the lowest percentage of students in the country who use condoms among those who are sexually active. Of the students surveyed, less than half 47.6 percent who have had intercourse said they use condoms.

    Hawai'i also has the lowest percentage of students in the nation who use birth control 12.7 percent among those currently sexually active.

    The survey, done jointly by the Department of Health and Department of Education, is conducted every two years and is considered the best and most reliable information on what teenagers in our public schools are thinking, doing and experiencing.

    This year's survey was released yesterday to a Board of Education committee.

    "Hawai'i has to think about how to address the sadness and depression youth feel," said Department of Health school health coordinator Cathy Tanaka, who released the data along with Dave Randall, an educational specialist with the DOE. "It's significant enough that it's an area we need to improve on."

    Much of the progress Hawai'i has seen in some areas may be due to a "top to bottom" approach of grassroots awareness, changes in public policies, increases in taxation on cigarettes, workplace wellness initiatives, and more and better education by teachers who have the data, according to officials.

    "In the tobacco arena there's been a lot of grassroots support for prevention," said Tanaka. "And with the tobacco settlement funds, there's been a lot of additional money for prevention."

    But the state now needs to focus the same kind of energy on attacking the overweight epidemic among Hawai'i teens, said Tanaka. "We have to have that same kind of effort around physical activity."

    Kay Bicoy, a health educator and physical education teacher at Pearl City High, agreed.

    Bicoy said the real "flag" for educators in looking at this new data is trying to understand the reasons teens are still pushing the envelope of risky behavior.

    "We need to know why," said Bicoy. "Is it insufficient discipline at home? No structure in the family? Is it wanting to be numb to what's hurting them?"

    Bicoy sees that sometimes overweight and suicidal ideation can be the result of "good kids" who have rejected drug use or sexual activity, but turn to self-destructive options instead.

    "They don't want to do the drugs and sex because they know it's wrong," she said, "so they hurt themselves with eating. I see good kids, and suicide becomes the thing that eats at them."

    The survey asked questions in 67 categories, everything from sexual habits to drug abuse to involvement with violence. Some of the other highlights of the survey include:

  • Hawai'i is among one of the five lowest states for students reported carrying a weapon (13.3 percent compared with 18.5 percent nationally), with 4.1 percent carrying a gun.

  • Hawai'i was also one of the five lowest states for fighting (27 percent), including at school (10 percent).

  • Hawai'i ranks highest in the nation for students who have had asthma 30.4 percent and has the highest rate in the nation of students who currently have asthma 23.3 percent.

    Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.