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Schools to conduct annual youth survey | Studies show high school students benefit from anti-drug programs

Data released last week by the Office of National Drug Control Policy further backs the success of drug-free programs such as the Island’s Communities That Care. According to the report, youth substance abuse decreases at a faster rate in communities with such programs.

Among other observations, the study found that the use of marijuana among high school students in “drug-free communities” is 9.9 percent lower than the reported national average; average youth alcohol use in drug-free communities is 23.3 percent lower than the national average; and annual tobacco use is 10 percent lower.

While youth drug use has been declining across the United States, it has declined more rapidly in communities with projects such as Communities That Care, the survey summarized.

“This is good news and a testament to the involvement of our parents and community members in bringing about the Communities That Care issue,” said School Board President Pat Braman. “I also want to give credit to the YFS counselors that are housed in our schools. All of these things help kids to know that this is a caring environment, and help is available if needed.”

According to critics of the Island’s D.A.R.E. prevention program, statistics show that it was not working. In 2003, the federal government’s accountability office also completed a study showing that D.A.R.E. had no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use. Supporters, however, have insisted that communities should continue the program, as it has successfully deferred numerous children from drugs.

Mercer Island Communities That Care members have accepted the new data with enthusiasm. Established in 2006, the coalition was in response to concerning results from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey taken by Mercer Island High School 12th-graders that spring. The seniors reported using alcohol and/or marijuana in the past 30 days at a higher rate than in the past.

The coalition has since raised awareness of the drug and alcohol problem among Mercer Island teenagers. Its overall goal is to prevent an environment that facilitates underage drug and alcohol abuse through holistic measures.

The 2008 Healthy Youth Survey is being taken by Island students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 this week, through Oct. 17. Students are not required to take the survey; however, all answers are anonymous. The survey asks a number of questions related to students’ increased risk of injury, poor health outcomes, alcohol and drug use. The school district, city, state and local health departments will use the information to plan preventive programs.

The statewide survey has shown surprising results among Island teenagers in the past.

Despite the worrisome amount of 12th-graders using marijuana and drinking alcohol, the 2006-07 questionnaire showed some positive behavior among Island teenagers. The number of seniors who reported riding with a driver under the influence of alcohol, for example, had dropped by 14 percent since 2002, settling at 2.5 percent below the state average.

For more information on Communities That Care, visit the city’s Web site: www.mercergov.org.

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