Falmouth Survey Shows Use Of Alcohol, Marijuana Lower Among Teens

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By: Sam Houghton
Published: 08/30/13

Results from a survey of students in Falmouth Public Schools have been released, suggesting that alcohol and drug use rates have fallen in the last five years, some dropping below state and national averages.

The most significant number, said the officials involved in putting the survey in Falmouth schools, is the decrease over the five years in alcohol use.

Alcohol Use Decreased
For grades 6 through 12, there has been a 12 percent decrease, on average, in alcohol use since 2009.

At Falmouth High School, 35 percent of students responded said they had used alcohol in the last 30 days, down from 43 percent in 2011 and down from 50 percent in 2009. The 2013 high school rates are 5 percent lower than the average Massachusetts high school, based on a survey in 2011 and 3.6 percent lower than the national high school level, also surveyed in 2011. The results of 2013 Massachusetts and national high schools have not been reported as of yet. Students were last surveyed in 2011.

Marijuana and cigarette usage has also dropped mostly across the board according to the survey results.

“Most surveys are usually full of bad news,” Patricia J. Mitrokostas told members of the Falmouth School Committee on Tuesday night. “Not so in this survey. We have a lot of positive results to showcase tonight.”

Ms. Mitrokostas is the program director for the Falmouth Prevention Partnership, a coalition of local businesses and departments that received a five year, $625,000 federal grant in 2008, to prevent substance abuse in the town’s youth. The grant proposal was put together by the Falmouth Substance Abuse Commission and this survey, conducted by the prevention partnership with the help of the schools, marks the end of that grant, aimed at identifying the degree of success the partnership has had since 2008.

Dr. Michael Bihari, chairman of the Falmouth Prevention Steering Committee, said that while the results have shown a decrease below the national average for the first time for Falmouth, there is still work to be done. However, their goal was to decrease the alcohol use rate by five percent, and he said that they have greatly surpassed that.

Six Grades Completed Survey
A total of 652 students in six grades completed the survey, which included the 6th graders from Morse Pond School and the 8th graders at Lawrence School and all four grades at the Falmouth High School. It was a self-reported survey, distributed in homerooms at the high school and Lawrence school and in the health classes at Morse Pond.

The survey was written by Communities That Care Youth Survey, “designed,” said Ms. Mitrokostas, “to identify the level of risk factors related to problem behaviors and the level of protective factors that help prevent those behaviors.”

Alcohol was not the only decrease in substance usage reported. Cigarette, marijuana, and prescription pain reliever use has dropped as well, although the use of hallucinogens, ecstasy, and tranquilizers have risen in different grades.

Lifetime Hallucinogens Use
Most grades surveyed saw the lifetime use of hallucinogens drop, except in 12th grade, which rose from 7.1 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2013. Lifetime referred to students who had used a hallucinogen at least once in their lifetime. Use among 10th graders surveyed also rose from 6.7 percent to 7.1 percent from 2011 to 2013. All other grades saw a decrease in use of hallucinogens.

Prescription Tranquilizers
The use of prescription tranquilizers, such as Xanax or Valium, without a prescription rose in the 12th grade as well as the 10th grade in 2013. For grade 12, the rate rose from 4.1 percent in 2011 to 5.7 percent in 2013, although it dropped from 6.2 percent in 2009. All other grades had a decrease in use.

Ecstasy had a slight increase in 12th grade, one percentage up in two years, to 8.6 in 2013. Tenth grade rose 2 percent. All other grades decreased, including 11th grade, which saw a drop from 14 to 5 percent from 2011 to 2013.

Marijuana use has decreased over the five years, from 37.1 percent usage in Falmouth High School in 2011 to 27. However the rate of use nationally in high schools is at 23.1 percent.

There was an increase by 3 percentage points in marijuana usage from 2011 to 2013 by seniors at the Falmouth High School, although from 2009, it dropped 4 percent. Ms. Mitrokostas said that overall, the partnership was glad to see any decrease, considering the change of the 2008 possession laws, making marijuana possession no longer a criminal offense.

Prescription Pain Relievers
Across nearly every grade level, the use of prescription pain relievers has dropped, although Dr. Bihari is concerned about one figure in the survey: students’ perception of availability for prescription drugs. The survey reported that about 29 percent of seniors at Falmouth high believed it was easy to find prescription drugs. While the number was lower than the belief about availability of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, the number concerned Dr. Bihari because the dangerous consequences that use of these drugs, such as pain killers, can lead to. He said that pain killers are a segue to heroin. Once a student is addicted to a pain killer he said, heroin is significantly cheaper and it has been shown that students will make the switch.

Students in Falmouth High School who said they used cigarettes in the last 30 days dropped from 17.3 percent in 2009 to 10.1 percent in 2013, again dropping below Massachusetts’ high school rates of 14 percent and the national 18.1 percent for high schools, both results from surveys in 2011.

One number for cigarettes use that stuck out to school committee numbers was the increase in the 6th grade. From 2011 to 2013, 2.3 percent of students reported in 2013 that they had used cigarettes compared to zero in 2011.


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