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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 16, 2007

Student drug-use findings alarming

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By Sharon Jayson
USA Today

HAWAI'I STUDENTS 'JUST SAY NO'

A 2003 drug-use study of 30,000 Hawai'i students in public and private schools found that monthly prevalence rates for illicit drug use were lower in Hawai'i than nationwide.

Drug use among Hawai'i students had dropped steadily from 1996, said the state Department of Health study, which reported that 4 percent of sixth-graders had used illicit drugs at least once in the previous month, 10 percent of eighth-graders had done so, 17 percent of 10th-graders, and 20 percent of 12th-grade students.

The study also reported that daily use of illicit drugs, including marijuana, inhalants, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, sedatives, hallucinogens, steroids and Ecstasy, were the lowest ever found in similar studies of Hawai'i students: in sixth grade (0.4 percent), eighth grade (1.5 percent), grade 10 (3.3 percent) and grade 12 (4.8 percent).

Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said preparations are under way for an updated study of student drug use in Hawai'i.

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A new national study of middle school and high school students calls U.S. schools "drug-infested," even though the major studies used to gauge teen drug use show a continued decline.

The telephone survey for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, being released today, asked 1,063 kids ages 12-17 about illegal drugs at school, and whether they ever witnessed students high or drunk.

From 2002 to 2007, the percentage attending schools where drugs are used or stored increased 12 percentage points to 31 percent in middle schools. Among high schools, the increase was from 44 percent to 61 percent, the survey said.

The survey was conducted by QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm in Washington, D.C., for the addiction research center, a nonprofit founded by Joseph Califano Jr., secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Carter administration.

"We clearly have a drug culture in most of the country's high schools and a significant proportion of the middle schools," he said.

Other data reflect a less troublesome picture. Large national studies last year by a federal agency, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, found 9.9 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in 2005 used drugs within the previous month, down from 11.6 percent in 2002. The Michigan study noted overall declines in 2006, including declines in marijuana use, but said prescription drugs remain at "relatively high levels."

Schools must be given credit for their anti-drug efforts, said H. Westley Clark, a psychiatrist who directs SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

"Despite the availability they describe, our data suggests that progress has been made and is being made," Clark said.

Deborah Price, assistant deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, said surveys suggest only a small group of teens get drugs or use drugs at school.

"We have not seen that to be the case that the school itself is a location for the availability of drugs," she said.

Steve Pasierb, president of the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said kids tend to overestimate availability of drugs and drug use by their peers.

He said he's not sure "infested" would be a valid conclusion, considering the small number of students surveyed 356 middle-schoolers and 659 high school students.

"Everybody who went to school in the last two decades knew somebody who used drugs," he adds.

But David Evans, executive director of the Drug-Free Schools Coalition, based in Flemington, N.J., which supports student drug testing, agrees with CASA's statement that schools are "drug-infested" because it "infests your attitude," he said.

"What the CASA report is saying is, 'Kids see it too much and are exposed to it too much,' " he said.