Report: Drug, alcohol use up for MT students
, BY BRIAN WALLACE, Staff Writer
Manheim Township students in 2011 apparently were using drugs and alcohol at a much higher rate than they were in 2009, according to a survey of student attitudes and behaviors.
The 2011 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, released last month by the school district, found that more than half of all Manheim Township High School seniors and more than a third of 10th-graders had used alcohol over a 30-day period in 2011.
The percentages far exceed Lancaster County averages and are significantly higher than the numbers reported in a 2009 survey, when less than a third of Township seniors and about a fourth of sophomores said they had used alcohol.
Binge drinking and marijuana use also were much higher in the most recent survey, in one case doubling the percentage from 2009.
District officials said they're concerned about the increases and are planning to step up drug awareness programs and other activities to try to stem the risky behaviors.
"I do think the legalization of marijuana (in other states) and such has skewed the numbers," said John Loose, assistant principal at Manheim Township High School.
"When students are in sixth grade, they say (marijuana) causes great harm. When they get older, they think, how can it cause harm if states are legalizing it?"
Colorado and Washington last year voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and several other states have decriminalized the drug in recent years. Others are considering moves toward legalization.
Reasons for the rise in alcohol use are harder to pin down, Loose said, and may simply be a reflection of our culture's acceptance of drinking.
The anonymous survey, conducted at the start of the 2011-12 school year, included 1,520 middle and high school students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12.
Of the 339 seniors polled, 52.1 percent said they had used alcohol within the past 30 days, up from 29.5 percent in '09; and 22.5 percent said they had used marijuana in that period, up from 14.4 percent in '09. In addition, 28.4 percent of seniors said they had been binge drinking in the past two weeks, up from 16.9 percent in '09.
Of the 373 sophomores surveyed, 36.6 percent said they had used alcohol, up from 24.6 percent in '09; 16.9 percent had used marijuana, up from 8.2 percent; and 19 percent reported binge drinking, up from 10.2 percent.
Why did the numbers surge so significantly in all categories?
Loose said some students may have exaggerated their drinking or pot smoking, but he thinks they would be more inclined to low-ball those numbers than inflate them.
Stephanie Roy, a staff member at Compass Mark, an agency that helps administer and interpret the survey results, agreed.
"If anything, I would have thought the kids would underreport marijuana usage," said Roy, Compass Mark's director of education and training. "There's almost a cockiness to it that kids don't think they need to hide it."
Students are "seeing the (marijuana) usage on sitcoms and they're hearing about legalization in the media, and the message it sends to kids is that it must not be a big deal," she told Manheim Township school board members.
"It must be pretty benign if it's everywhere. And that's how they perceive it -- it's everywhere."
Because students may not take the surveys seriously, their responses are screened to eliminate bogus answers.
Results that indicate unusually high drug or alcohol activity or excessive antisocial behaviors are thrown out, as are responses that are inconsistent. Phony drug names are included in the questions to catch students who may be checking off boxes randomly.
Surveys from 57 Manheim Township students -- 3.6 percent of the total -- were thrown out using these screening methods.
Loose said he has not seen an increase in students being disciplined for drug or alcohol offenses since the 2009 survey was conducted. And the number of students testing positive in the district's random testing program -- one or two per year -- has been steady. The testing, which screens for marijuana but not alcohol, has been in effect since 2010-11.
Loose pointed out that the surveys, conducted voluntarily every two years, yield results that tend to be "up and down from year to year." The '09 survey indicated substance abuse had declined since 2007.
But Loose said school officials are "very aware that there is an issue with both drugs and alcohol with our students."
"We don't have our heads in the sand," he said.
The district plans to step up its substance-abuse education efforts, including bringing student speakers to assemblies to warn about the dangers of partying, and hosting "Drugs 101," a presentation on what parents should look for if they suspect their children of substance abuse.
Currently, all students learn about the health dangers of drugs and alcohol in health classes, and school resource officer Roger Blantz meets with groups of students to talk about the consequences for people who abuse the substances.
School officials are discussing ways to include more awareness and training in student club activities and programs, spokeswoman Marcie Brody said. And the high school administration plans to work with the middle school to incorporate more awareness at that level, she said.
"I don't have the answers, other than to say we'll continue with education at school and continue to educate parents on what to look for," Loose said.
"And all of us need to work together to get those numbers down."
"I don't have the answers, other than to say we'll continue with education at school and continue to educate parents on what to look for."