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California and the West

State's Students Using Drugs Less, Survey Finds

Trends: Study of grades 7, 9 and 11 notes declines in alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines and inhalants. But 11th-graders report more heroin use.

September 19, 2000|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Drug and alcohol use by California students has significantly declined for the first time in a decade, but a recent rise in the use of heroin among some students has authorities concerned.

"This is the first time we've been able to detect a substantial change," Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said Monday of the general decline shown in preliminary findings of the 8th Biennial California Student Survey, which assesses alcohol and drug use among students.

Bucking the downward trend was an increase in the use of heroin found among 11th-grade students. The number of 11th-graders who reported using the narcotic in the last six months rose from 1.7% in 1997-98 to 5.2% in the 1999-2000 school year.

Lockyer blamed the jump on the availability of a new, smokable form of heroin, which is easier to market because it does not need to be injected.

"It's a disturbing trend," Lockyer said, "one that we want to be sure to alert parents and school officials to."

Nearly 13,000 students in grades seven, nine and 11 from 116 schools participated in the 1999 survey, which Lockyer is required by the Legislature to conduct.

Use of marijuana, methamphetamines and inhalants among students from all three grades was down from 1997-98. The largest decline was in the use of alcohol, the substance most often abused by students.

The survey found that roughly a third of seventh-graders, half of ninth-graders and two-thirds of 11th-graders reported having drunk alcohol in the past six months.

The decline in alcohol use is the first in 15 years, researchers said. The percentage dropped at least 10 points for all three grades in practically every alcoholic beverage category, which include beer, wine and liquor.

While officials were quick to credit the decrease in drug and alcohol use to drug-prevention campaigns and mentoring programs, a reduction in smoking was attributed in part to rising prices.

Drug and alcohol abuse among students classified as heavy users--those who use a substance at least weekly--held steady.

Rodney Skager, a UCLA professor who has conducted the survey since 1985, described substance abuse among teenagers as a social phenomenon. He noted that more than 70% of the 11th-graders surveyed said half or more of their peers have tried marijuana and more than 50% described obtaining alcohol or marijuana as "very easy."

Skager particularly noted the finding that only 14% of 11th-graders said it was "very likely" that students could find help at school for stopping alcohol and drug use.

"This is a problem we really do need to address," Skager said. "We have to concentrate on kids who need help."

Parents can access resources dealing with drug use and prevention by tapping into the Stop Drugs Web site at http://www.stop drugs.org or Lockyer's Web site, http://caag.state.ca.us/cvpc/dru galc.htm .

The survey is sponsored by the state's Department of Justice, Department of Education, Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs and the Department of Health Services. Skager noted that the wording of some questions changed for 1999-2000 because of a decision by the sponsors to expand the survey, but said he did not believe the changes significantly affected the findings.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Drug and Alcohol Survey

For the first time in a decade, alcohol and drug use among California students dropped significantly, according to preliminary results of a survey. But substance abuse by so-called "heavy users" rose.

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Source: Attorney general's office, Dept. of Education, Dept. of Health Services and Dept. of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

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