Pot, tobacco use up among 12th-graders Alcohol consumption remains high, state survey finds; 'It's discouraging'; Outlook is better for younger students, state survey finds

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Marijuana and cigarette use is rising among Maryland's high school seniors, and alcohol consumption remains high, despite extensive drug education, according to a state Department of Education survey released yesterday.

Although drinking among 12th-graders dropped slightly since the last survey in 1994, more than half of the seniors polled in December said they had consumed alcohol at least three times during the previous 30 days. More than a third said they had consumed five or more drinks on one occasion during that period.

The percentage of seniors who reported using marijuana during the previous 30 days increased from 25.3 percent in 1994 to 27.4 percent in the most recent survey. And 32 percent said they had smoked cigarettes during the previous 30 days, up from 29.9 percent in the 1994 survey.

"I think it's discouraging after we've spent so much time as a society and school system teaching students the facts about the adverse affects of drugs and alcohol," said Kenneth P. Lawson, an associate superintendent in Anne Arundel County.

In the lower grades, the outlook was brighter.

Smoking, drinking and marijuana use declined among the state's sixth- , eighth- and 10th-graders, with the percentage of sixth-graders reporting having a drink during the previous 30 days dropping from 10.4 percent in 1994 to 7.9 in 1996, the survey found.

"It looks really good for our younger students, but our concern is our 12th-graders," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "This survey is not about what's happening in school. This is happening in students' lives."

The education department's biennial Maryland Adolescent Survey got responses from more than 21,400 public school students in four grades about a wide variety of drugs, including crack, inhalants, steroids and Ritalin, along with cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use.

Societal problem

The findings nearly mirrored national consumption rates for cigarettes and alcohol. But marijuana consumption in Maryland remained 4 percent to 5 percent above the national average, as it has since 1992.

Grasmick and other officials said drug use is a societal problem that schools alone cannot combat.

"It really is important to look beyond the schools," said Grasmick. This is a larger issue that spans 24 hours and the whole community."

School officials also were quick to point out that parents' attitudes can deter drug use.

Among students who had never used liquor, for instance, only 5.6 percent indicated that their parents would approve of its use. Among those who had used it at least once, however, 19.6 percent said their parents would approve.

Surprise from city, P.G.

Surprising some at yesterday's board meeting, the state's more urban areas -- Prince George's County and Baltimore -- recorded consumption rates significantly lower than those in the more LTC affluent counties and the rural sections of the state.

For instance, 34.1 percent of the city 12th-graders surveyed said they had taken a drink during the previous 30 days. The statewide average was 52.4 percent. In Garrett County, 53.4 percent reported drinking during the previous month, and in Somerset County, it was 49.7 percent.

In the city, only 0.2 percent of 10th-graders surveyed said they had used crack cocaine during the previous 30 days, compared with 3 percent in Somerset County and a statewide average of 1.8 percent.

School officials around the metropolitan area had mixed reactions to the survey.

"I think it shows that what we're trying to do is starting to work," said Joyce Brown Weddington, substance abuse impact coordinator for Howard County, where the percentage of students who reported using cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana remained steady or declined.

Two years ago, the use of marijuana, LSD, PCP and inhalants was reported to be increasing significantly there.

In Anne Arundel County, nearly 55 percent of 10th- and 12th-graders reported drinking alcohol during the previous 30 days, and more than 75 percent of both groups said they had a drink during the previous year.

'Still of great concern'

In Carroll County, although there were declines in many categories, "some of these numbers are still of great concern," said Joanne M. Hayes, the school system's substance abuse prevention coordinator. "The fact that over 50 percent of kids are smoking in 12th grade when they know what they're doing to their body really bothers me."

Harford County officials are concerned with the high percentage of high school seniors who report that their parents never talk to them about drugs and alcohol, said J. Sue Henry, coordinator of the Harford County Drug/Alcohol Impact Program. "Communication is one of those risk factors," Henry said. "Likewise, it could be a protective factor, so we'd really like to see something done with the communication between the kids and their parents."

Baltimore County schools spokesman Donald Mohler had not seen the report, but he suggested that any slackening of prevention programs would be foolhardy. "Drug and alcohol abuse continue to be a problem. We can't let up. It takes a community effort," he said.

Pub Date: 5/28/97

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