Newtown Prevention Council Hears Substance Abuse Survey Results

Newtown Prevention Council (NPC) heard a summary last month of the 2013 Youth Survey Report by Archie Swindell of Quantitative Services. The news received during the September 19 was mixed. The survey found that local youth are smoking less… tobacco, that is. Marijuana is another thing.

The survey was sponsored by Newtown Prevention Council and the Newtown Public Schools through the Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. It was administered in April. The results had previously been presented to the Board of Education during its August 20 meeting.

According to the report, which is posted on the school district’s website, the survey has been given to Newtown students since the early 1990s. It offers the ability to track trends in substance use and factors.

The substances tracked include cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, a variety of illicit drugs and the abuse of over the counter medications and prescription medications without a medical order or prescription, according to the survey.

Dr Swindell told the NPC members that parents were also surveyed, and a greater number of parents participated in the survey this year over previous years.

He said trends in lifetime use, meaning the responder has had a substance at least once in his or her life, for cigarettes are decreasing in Newtown more rapidly than the national average. He also reported on the estimated intensity of cigarette use by Newtown youth, using results from the survey. Dr Swindell said the “intensity” at which Newtown youth smoke is declining.

“The kids that are smoking are smoking less. That’s good news,” said Dr Swindell.

The number of students who answered they had tried drinking at least once in their lives also decreased, closing the gap between Newtown and the lower national average in that category, according to the report.

For lifetime marijuana use, Dr Swindell said there was a “slight uptick” for students in seventh through tenth grade who reported use. Students who reported using marijuana in the last 30 days also increased.

The report also read: “In grades 11 to 12, the lifetime prevalence of marijuana use in 2013 was 44 percent, about the same as in 2011.”

The survey also asked students to access their risk level when using substances. For alcohol use, Dr Swindell said the students who drink responded saying they believe there is a low risk in using alcohol. The perceived harm when it comes to marijuana use is declining slightly nationally, according to Dr Swindell, but it is declining more rapidly in Newtown.

Students were also asked to gauge how their parents would respond if they found out their child was using a substance.

“Kids generally feel that parents disapprove of them using marijuana,” said Dr Swindell.

He also said, based on the survey, there is a correlation between the length of time students spend unchaperoned at home with the possibility for substance abuse, especially alcohol. Dr Swindell said when students spend more than two hours home alone after school without a parent home there is a greater likelihood that the student will drink alcohol.

Dr Swindell also said students who use marijuana are more likely to use other substances. Marijuana smokers, for instance, are 13 times more likely to also smoke cigarettes, and 32 times more likely to use other drugs.

The top reasons students in grades 11 and 12 said they drink included fun, boredom, fitting in with friends, curiosity, stress release, and access, Dr Swindell said.

Students were also asked to reflect on their feelings of school safety. Dr Swindell reported 90 percent of students responded they feel safe in school. Parents also responded saying they feel their children are safe in school, which Dr Swindell said together reflects a sense of community safety.

After the presentation, NPC members responded with some concerns from the findings. Newtown High School social worker Martha Shilstone said she was concerned with the increase of students who drink who also reported driving after drinking. NPC Co-Chair Judy Blanchard said she was concerned with the increase of students saying they drink in homes where parents are aware of alcohol consumption.

Ms Blanchard asked all NPC members present for the meeting to write down what they would say the council’s three priorities for the coming year should be, based on the 2013 Youth Survey Report results.

The meeting also marked the Council’s first meeting of the 2013-14 school year.

“I think we are going to have a really good year,” said Ms Blanchard.

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