New York Pupil Poll Finds Alcohol, Drug Use Heavy

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About 60 percent of New York State's secondary-school students had at least one experience with illicit drugs in the last school year, and more than half were "drunk or very high" from alcohol at least once during the same period.

Those estimates are based on a survey of 27,414 students in grades 7 to 12 in 154 public schools and 52 private schools; state officials say those polled were representative of New York's 1.5 million secondary-school students.

The State Division of Substance Abuse Services, which conducted the survey last year, reported this month that, based on the survey, 31 percent of the state's 7th-grade students had used illicit drugs before they entered the 7th grade.

That finding marked the first time illicit drug use prior to the 7th grade has been documented, according to Julio A. Martinez, director of the division.

Changing Drug Preference

Officials found that while the proportion of students who had at least one experience with illicit drugs was up from 56 percent in 1978--when a similar survey was last made--the choice of drugs has changed.

According to the survey, marijuana use has declined and cocaine use has increased, a shift also found in the federal government's longitudinal survey of students' drug use. Forty-six percent of all the New York students polled reported using marijuana at least once, compared with 54 percent in 1978. Fourteen percent said they had used cocaine, compared with 11 percent in 1978.

But the proportion of students who said they had tried "angel dust,'' or PCP, declined from 16 percent in 1978 to 5 percent last year.

The survey also showed that students in grades 11 and 12 were two-to-four times more likely to be substance abusers than those in grades 7 and 8.

"The increased level of drug use by 11th and 12th graders may be due to the more ready availability of drugs," Mr. Martinez said. "Peer pressure to use drugs is a problem for these youngsters. They need and must have the support of their parents, their teachers, their schools, and their communities, if they are to be drug-free.

"Unfortunately," he added, "the shrinking federal funding commit-ment to prevention and treatment has diminished New York State's ability to sustain treatment and prevention programs. Perhaps this survey will demonstrate to the federal government that more emphasis needs to be placed on funding prevention initiatives."

'Hooked' on Alcohol

Included in the survey were questions about drinking, which were analyzed by the state Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.

Fifty-three percent of the respondents said they had been drunk or very high from alcohol at least once during the last school year. Eighteen percent had been drunk once a month or more often; 10 percent had been drunk once a week or more; 13 percent said they had attended at least one class while "high, drunk, or stoned" on alcohol; and 11 percent said they were "hooked" on alcohol.

Overall, 83 percent of the students said they had used alcohol. The figure rose to 92 percent for students in grades 10-12.

Heavy Drinkers

The survey found that 13 percent of the secondary-school students could be categorized as "heavy drinkers," meaning that they drink at least once a week and typically consume 5 to 12 drinks on such occasions.

Another 14 percent were classified as moderate-to-heavy drinkers, meaning that they drink at least once a week and typically consume 2 to 4 drinks per occasion, or that they drink 3 to 4 times a month and consume 5 to 12 drinks per occasion.

"We've heard over and over again that alcohol use is a major and growing problem in our schools," said Robert Shear, director of the State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. "Clearly, the regular use of alcohol by teen-agers is the major chemical-use problem facing our schools, and with 11 percent feeling they're hooked, clearly alcohol is by far the most common chemical dependency among teen-agers."

"More has got to be done to limit accessibility of alcoholic beverages to high-school-age people," Mr. Shear said. "Raising the purchase age is our number-one strategy in that area, along with enforcement of other existing laws."

Alcohol and Grades

According to the survey, 5 percent of the students who get mostly A's in their schoolwork are heavy drinkers, while 32 percent of those receiving D's or F's are heavy drinkers.

"While there is a significant relationship between poor grades and heavy drinking, it cannot be assumed that heavy drinking 'causes' poor grades," the report notes. "It may be that poor school performance leads to increased drinking or that poor academic performance and alcohol abuse occur together in a network or syndrome of problem behaviors."

Undercover in N.Y.C.

Also this month, New York City police officers and school officials reached a tentative agreement that would allow undercover officers to patrol school buildings in an attempt to catch drug dealers.

According to Joseph Mancini, a spokesman for the school system, the two sides are working out guidelines for what constitutes "reasonable cause" for the officers to enter a school building.

Vol. 04, Issue 09

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