Survey: Drug use high in local teens

Published 12:05 am Friday, November 4, 2011

Tobacco and drug use among the county’s teens are “above average,” officials said Thursday.

Roughly 10 percent of all students in Covington County have used marijuana, 18.8 percent have used alcohol and 13.7 percent have smoked cigarettes at least once a month, according to results of the 2010-2011 Pride Survey.

Each year, students in grades six through 12 are questioned about the prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use, the perception of risk, age of first use and other indicators of substance abuse patterns.

The results of the survey were presented to a group of area religious leaders Thursday.

Superintendents from all three schools asked for religious leaders’ help in combating these dangers.

“Generally speaking, these numbers have stayed consistent,” Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson said. “Parents have the opportunity to make the biggest difference.”

District Judge Trippy McGuire, who is chairman of the Covington County Children’s Policy Council Coalition, echoed Watson’s sentiments.

“Parents do have the greatest influence on teens,” he said. “Values are learned in homes. If they don’t get them there, they won’t get them.”

“We do need your (churches) helps,” Covington County Schools Superintendent Terry Holley said. “We are all over the spectrum. We are constantly promoting (being drug-free) but we can only go so far. I’m going to reiterate what’s been said, it’s a team effort.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said his numbers were reflective of the other two systems.

“I’d be concerned if they added a prescription pills category. I think we’d all be alarmed at that data,” he said. “I think we need to take a look at the protective factors, such as parental influence.

“Parents blame the schools and the schools blame the parents. Church attendance is very crucial. We have them from 7:30 to 3. We do the best we can. We need to look at other protective factors such as what causes an adult to go to church.”

Smithart said statistics show that 85 percent of adults whose father took them to church as an adolescent continue to go to church, while 50 percent whose mother took them continue. Only 10 percent of adults choose to attend church on their own notion.

McGuire agreed that a father’s role is important in all aspects of maturation.

“You’ve got to have a dad,” he said. “It takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man. You can’t overemphasize the role of a father.”

Susan Short, executive director of the CCCPCC said the risk perception data concerned her.

Nearly 25 percent of the county’s 2,486 students surveyed don’t think using marijuana is risky.

“I think the medical marijuana viewpoint is filtering down to our young people,” she said. “These numbers are high to me. Marijuana is a gateway drug.”

McGuire agreed.

“The big lie in society is that marijuana will not harm you, and it’s not addictive,” he said. “I see someone who comes before me on their first marijuana charge, they still have light behind their eyes. Four years later, when they stand before me for their second marijuana charge, they aren’t the same person. Attitudes toward marijuana are becoming more lackadaisical.”

Countywide, roughly 21 out of 443 sixth graders surveyed have used alcohol, 10 out of 442 sixth graders have smoked cigarettes and nine out of 438 sixth graders have used marijuana once a month or more often.

Those numbers increased to 44 out of 411 seventh graders admit to using alcohol, 32 out of 410 have smoked cigarettes and 19 out of 408 have used marijuana.

Sixty-three out of 426 eighth graders admitted to using alcohol, 34 out of 423 smoked cigarettes and 25 out of 421 used marijuana, or 5.9 percent.

Of the 384 students surveyed in the ninth grade, 79 admitted to using alcohol, 52 smoked cigarettes and 48 smoked marijuana, or 12.5 percent.

In the 10th grade, 101 of 347 students reported using alcohol, 91 of 347 smoked cigarettes and 62 of 345 used marijuana or 18 percent.

The county’s 11th graders reported that 97 of the 285 students surveyed used alcohol, 71 of 284 smoked cigarettes and 45 out of 283 used marijuana, or 16 percent.

A whopping 32 percent of seniors or 70 out 217 admitted using alcohol at least once a month, 25 percent or 55 out of 216 admitted using cigarettes and 19 percent or 41 out of 215 admitted using marijuana.

“Our perspective is to give this information to the faith-based community and get it out to their parents in the congregations,” Short said. “We’re trying to reach parents to combat youth substance abuse. Some parents don’t have any idea. We are above average for substance abuse.”