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National Study Finds Jump in Drug Use in Public Middle and High Schools

Posted on August 24, 2010 in Addiction in the Media
National Study Finds Jump in Drug Use in Public Middle and High Schools

Researchers have found that public school students nationwide are experiencing more gang violence and drug use than ever before, according to recent data.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University released a new report this month, exposing the surge in gang- and drug-infected schools based on students’ responses to a national survey. An estimated 5.7 million public school students are believed to be exposed to school environments that are both gang- and drug-infected.

Public school students are at a much higher risk of gang violence and drug use—including drug abuse, sales, or storage. Based on CASA’s survey, 27% of public school students aged 12 to 17 report that their school contains both gangs and drug use. Compared to students at drug-free schools, students from gang- and drug-infected schools are:

  • three times more likely to drink alcohol,
  • three times more likely to obtain marijuana within an hour or less,
  • five times likelier to obtain marijuana within a day or less,
  • five times more likely to use marijuana,
  • five times more likely to have a friend who uses illicit drugs—including acid, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, or methamphetamine
  • twelve times more likely to smoke cigarettes

In the survey, only 2% of teenagers from private or religious schools reported having gang activity at their school, yet 46% of public school students reported the existence of gangs at their schools. Furthermore, the rate of drug activity within public schools has proven to be the worst in the past decade. CASA’s 2010 survey has shown a steep incline in drug use among public schools. In 2001, CASA’s survey found that 62% of public school students considered their school to be drug-free; yet by 2010, this percentage dropped to 43%. Private and religious school students’ responses remained relatively the same during this time period (79% reported attending a drug-free school in 2001, compared to 78% in 2010). Now, the disparity between drug-free public and private schools has grown twofold, making public schools an increasingly more dangerous environment for teenagers.

Even though parents may switch jobs or neighborhoods due to hostile environments, they may not always consider such options as changing schools for their child. As a result, many public school students are repeatedly faced with a threatening environment in their everyday lives. Without taking appropriate action to rid schools of gang violence and substance use, parents, educators, and local and state officials are in a sense contributing to the hostility and dangers that teens are being forced to confront.

CASA’s study also discovered that the highest increase in drug use was among middle schools. In just the past year alone, middle school students reported a 39% increase in drug use at their schools (23% reported drug use in 2009, compared to 32% in 2010). Students attending drug-infected middle schools were found to be:

  • three times more likely to try drinking alcohol,
  • five times more likely to have a prescription drug-abusing friend,
  • seven times more likely to have a friend who abuses illicit drugs such as acid, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, or meth
  • thirty-three times more likely to have tried tobacco

Also, 24% of students from these schools reported being able to obtain marijuana in a day or less, and 39% reported obtaining alcohol within the same time span. Ten percent of students from drug-infected middle schools have tried marijuana, but no students from drug-free middle schools reported any marijuana use.

Similarly, high school students have been experiencing a rise in drug use as well. In 2006, CASA found 51% of high school students reported that they attended a drug-infected school, but by 2010, this percentage jumped to 66%. Although a drug-infected school poses a large threat to students’ wellbeing and safety, CASA also found that substance abuse in the home greatly impacts students’ choices regarding their own substance use. Compared to teenagers from households with strong family ties, teenagers from households with weak family relationships were twice as likely to have a friend who abuses illicit substances such as acid, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, methamphetamine, or prescription drugs; three times more likely to drink alcohol; four times more likely to use marijuana; and four times more likely to use tobacco. The strongest weapon for combating teen substance abuse essentially is the parent. Regardless of whether parents have control or not over the child’s school environment, communication remains the most effective method for both prevention and intervention.

CASA’s “National Survey of American Attitudes towards Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents” is the organization’ 15th annual back-to-school survey on substance abuse among teenagers and is available at www.casacolumbia.org.

Source:The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents, August 19, 2010

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