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Teens' abuse of substances varies by age Study shows use by area 10th-graders higher than for state; 'Mixed messages' blamed; Community effort suggested to combat 'chronic problem'


Greater percentages of Harford County 10th-graders reported using cigarettes, beer, wine and liquor than 10th-graders around the state, a survey by the Maryland Department of Education shows.

The Maryland Adolescent Survey, conducted every two years by the state agency, asks sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders about their use of substances, from alcohol to steroids to crack.

Of the more than 18,000 Maryland students surveyed, about 900 were from Harford County.

Students were asked whether they ever used the drugs; whether they had inthe past 30 days -- a statistic state and county school officials said is more likely to indicate whether students are regular users; and whether they had in the past year.

Not all the news was bad. A smaller percentage of sixth-, eighth- and 12th-graders in Harford said they had drunk beer or wine within a month of the 1994 survey than did in 1992. But a larger percentage of 10th-graders said they had drunk beer or wine within 30 days of the survey.

A smaller percentage of 12th-graders said they had smoked cigarettes or marijuana within a month of the survey, taken in December. And a smaller percentage of seniors in Harford used those two substances than seniors throughout the state.

"As far as I'm concerned the numbers are still too high," said J. Sue Henry, coordinator of Harford County's Drug/Alcohol Impact Program, a community awareness agency.

The increases in the number of younger students using drugs is particularly alarming, she said. "The younger somebody starts, the more likely they are to continue" and use other drugs.

In teaching students about the dangers of drugs and offering prevention programs, schools are doing more than individual families and the community, Ms. Henry said.

But schools can't stem the tide of drug abuse alone, said Donald R. Morrison, spokesman for Harford County schools.

"Despite all of our best efforts, it continues to be a chronic problem," Mr. Morrison said.

School officials are to hold a news conference tomorrow to present an evaluation of the survey.

Some other findings of the survey for Harford are:

* Following a statewide trend, a larger percentage of young people use cigarettes, beer, wine and hard liquor than other substances in Harford.

* Use of beer, wine or wine coolers by Harford 12th-graders exceeded the statewide percentage; 53 percent of Harford 12th-graders used one of the beverages vs. 51 percent statewide.

* Thirty-three percent of 10th-graders in Harford smoked cigarettes vs. 27 percent statewide; 44 percent drank beer, wine or wine coolers vs. 43 percent statewide; and 32 percent drank liquor vs. 30 percent statewide.

* For inhalants, 3.9 percent of Harford sixth-graders reported using them compared with 3.6 percent statewide. For eighth-graders, the use was 12 percent local vs. 11 percent statewide; for 10th-graders, 8.3 percent vs. 6 percent statewide; and for 12th-graders, 6 percent in the county vs. 5 percent statewide. Glue, aerosol spray, paint thinner and gasoline are inhalants.

* The percentage of 10th-graders using inhalants nearly tripled between 1992 and 1994, to 8.3 percent of those answering the 1994 survey.

* Fewer Harford students at every grade level used LSD than others around the state. In Harford, no sixth-graders reported using LSD. Fewer than 1 percent did statewide. For eighth-graders, the use was 3.6 percent vs. 4.2 percent statewide; for 10th-graders, 7 percent vs. 7.5 percent statewide; and for seniors, 5 percent vs. 6.9 percent statewide.

Mixed messages about the appropriateness of drug use are to blame for some of the increases, Ms. Henry said. "We need to look at some of our tacit acceptance, particularly of cigarettes. On one hand we say to young people, 'Don't smoke, don't drink,' and yet we're surrounding them" with advertisements and images that say the opposite.

But Myra Estes of Bel Air thinks anti-drug messages have registered. She said she was surprised last year when her daughter, then a 10th-grader, phoned to ask for a ride from a party.

"There were no parents, and there were drugs and alcohol; she was uncomfortable," Mrs. Estes said.

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