California’s students have used drugs and alcohol more than previously imagined, according to a statewide survey released by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The study revealed that 45 percent of ninth graders and 57 percent of 11th graders reported getting “high” at least once in their lifetimes. This survey was the first one to measure use of diverted prescription drugs and recreational use of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in addition to alcohol and illicit drugs.
Including alcohol, the drug used most by all ages of students, those numbers spike to 60 and 74 percent respectively.
Prescription drug use, especially of such drugs as Vicodin and Oxycontin, was second only to alcohol and marijuana among all high school students. Excluding over-the-counter and prescription medications, drug use among minors has generally remained steady since 2005, according to the report.
The survey also found an increased incidence of drinking and driving – 32 percent of 11th graders reported having driven drunk at least once in their lifetime, the highest level in the past six years.
The 12th biennial California Student Survey (CSS), administered by the California Attorney General’s office, was conducted during the 2007-2008 school year, collecting data from 13,930 students across 115 public middle and high schools.
This 12th report may however be its last.
“The Crime and Violence Prevention Center, which runs the program, was eliminated from the Attorney General’s budget in October 2008,” said Daphne Hom, program manager of the CSS. The survey will remain discontinued “until someone else picks up the funding.“
The study was pioneered in 1985 by Rodney Skager, professor emeritus at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, and author of “Beyond Zero Tolerance: A Reality-Based Approach to Drug Education and School Discipline.“ The educational booklet advocates for educating students through comprehensive, interactive and honest drug education with identification of, and assistance for, students whose lives are disrupted by substance use.
He says the survey reveals that while most students do not use alcohol and drugs regularly, widespread experimentation is tolerated among youth and much higher than previously believed.
Noting that a downward trend in drug use from 1991 to 2003 has stopped, Skager criticized current policy that advocates mostly abstinence-only efforts.
“What we have been doing is a completely ineffective way of dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. Students are disregarding abstinence methods,” Skager said.
His aim is an approach that recognizes that, regardless of outside efforts, students will try alcohol and drugs, and that intervention efforts may be most helpful in preventing one-time use from becoming full-time abuse.
“To prevent adolescents who do experiment from falling into abusive patterns, we need to create fallback strategies that focus on safety … where kids can talk about and analyze their relationship to alcohol and drugs,” he said. “If you don’t respect them they won’t listen.“
The 2007-2008 California Student Survey is available online at safestate.org/index.cfm?navID=254.
TOM MORRIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.