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Survey: Drug access, use spikes in high school

September 21, 2018

Access to and use of alcohol and other drugs jump when students transition from middle school to high school, a recent study administered by Greenwich’s Prevention Council found.

About 3,000 middle and high school students from the town’s public and private schools were surveyed in February to identify and address risky behavior among Greenwich teenagers. The survey also measured what strengths and assets students felt they had.

Eight percent of eighth graders knew how to find marijuana, a ratio that more than doubled to 17 percent of ninth graders.

Alcohol saw a similar jump. Just under 5 percent of eighth graders reported using alcohol in the past 30 days; a figure that rose to more than 13 percent in ninth grade and almost 55 percent in senior year.

About 13.5 percent of students in seventh grade knew how to access e-cigarettes. By grade eight, that number reached 25 percent. By ninth grade, 43.9 percent of students reported knowing how to easily access vaping devices.

Almost 5 percent of eighth graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past month; 13 percent of ninth graders and 36 percent of high school seniors.

“The data supports what we anecdotally knew from years of experience, which is how important transition years are,” said Ingrid Gillespie, executive director of Communities 4 Action and a driving force behind the survey.

Gillespie will present more of the data at a community forum, which the Prevention Council will host in October, she said.

On a positive note, students reported that they have strong connections to their families and schools, Kids In Crisis Director of Outreach and Community Initiatives Debbi Katz said.

“When we do preventative work, we can use those connections to bring education and prevention work to students,” Katz said.

The survey went out to students in grades seven through 12 at Greenwich Public Schools, Greenwich Academy, Brunswick School, Greenwich Country Day School, Greenwich Catholic School, Stanwich School, Whitby School and Sacred Heart Greenwich. Students answered questions about their activities, beliefs and relationships, as well as substance use, bullying and social media behavior.

The data show that students use drugs and alcohol, but not why, Gillespie said. The Prevention Council will set up focus groups with students later this year to ask them if the data resonates with their experiences, she said.

Survey data was compiled by the Search Institute, a national nonprofit that developed part of the questionnaire. Greenwich did well in six of the eight categories that the institute identifies as necessary for childhood development.

The town’s strengths included support, which measures how much love and support families give children and how many other adult relationships they have, and empowerment, which measures how safe children feel and how much they feel their community values them.

The town could improve in how its students spend time outside of the classroom, according to Gillespie. According to the institute, students should have at least one place to go after school.

“For our first time, we did well,” Gillespie said. “That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of room for growth.”

Greenwich Public Schools administered the survey to a random sample of half of the students in those grades by selecting specific classes across all grade levels. Some private schools gave the survey to all students grades 7 through 12.

The results of the anonymous survey cannot be tracked back to students.

The survey cost $11,000 to administer. Greenwich Public Schools paid half the cost, and Greenwich private schools covered the rest, paying between $300 and $1,400 depending on their size.

The Prevention Council can use the data to leverage available funding to improve its preventative programming, Gillespie said.

Both Gillespie and Katz said knowing a community’s assets is key to preventing risky behaviors among youth.

“We’re using the strength-based approach to create a community where young people can thrive,” Gillespie said.

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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