The battle against drugs and alcohol use among teenagers seems to finally be on a winning streak — with use holding steady at their lowest level in over two decades, according to a 2017 survey by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The survey includes the attitudes among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students across the nation and found, “a general decline in perceived risk of harm from using a number of substances and declining disapproval of people who use them.”
Programs like Red Ribbon Week, held Oct. 23-31, 2018, are important to help guide kids through the ever-expanding maze of drugs available. In addition to alcohol, LSD, heroin, hash, and mushroom, they are exposed to relatively new drugs like meth, Ecstasy, Molly, Spice (or K2), PCP, and bath salts. Now, vaping (E-cigarettes) are on the market and have been recently included on many surveys given to today’s youth.
The allure of drugs can be hard to resist for young, uneducated minds, and so education is a key to help kids stay away from them. At Superior School last week, classroom doors were decorated with Halloween-infused, anti-drug messages, including a door decorated with Smartie candies and read, “Smarties don’t do drugs,”; another read, “We will not get caught up in the web of drugs” with spider webs.
MINERAL COUNTY School kids also spent the week dressing up with special days like Disney Day, where they dressed like their favorite Disney character, or Camo Day, and Spirit Day.
“Red Ribbon Week brings a great awareness to the schools and it’s a big thing. It allows us to have that conversation with the parents and kids about drugs and alcohol and brings awareness and the reality of the harm it can cause. We teach the kids respect for others and respect for yourself, and to put the right things into your body,” said Superior Elementary Principal Logan Labbe. “We had dress-up days which the kids enjoy and hopefully when they think back on their school days, they’ll remember dressing up and remind themselves of the message Red Ribbon Week brings.”
Messages found in programs like this seems to be working. According to the drug abuse survey, this past year’s use of illicit drugs among eighth graders is at 5.8 percent, down from a 1996 peak of 13.1 percent. Among 10th graders, use is at 9.4 percent, down from a 1996 high of 18.4 percent and among 12th graders it’s at 13.3 percent, down from 21.6 percent.
In a 2015, Mineral County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 12 percent of high school students drank alcohol, compared to 15 percent statewide in Montana. While 3.2 percent had tried cocaine or crack (5 percent statewide); 6.3 percent had sniffed glue or paint (8 percent statewide); 2.36 percent tried meth; 4.72 percent tried Ecstasy, and 10.32 percent had tried synthetic marijuana like Spice and K2.
The National Institutes of Drug Abuse 2017 survey stated that, “The percentage of high school teens who reported ever using alcohol dropped by as much as 60 percent compared to peak years and past-year use of synthetic cannabinoids (K2/herbal incense, sometimes called “fake weed” or “synthetic marijuana”) has dropped significantly in the six years since the survey began tracking use of these substances.”
SUPERIOR HIGH School Principal Chris Clairmont said, “In order for people to reach their full potential, a commitment to this lifestyle starts at a young age and we feel it is important to participate in Red Ribbon Week to show our commitment from our school to a drug free lifestyle.”
Marijuana use has also seen past-year use decline among tenth graders and remained unchanged among eighth and 12th graders compared to five years ago despite the changing state marijuana laws, according to the national survey, with about one in 16 seniors using it daily. Along with this finding is that senior’s disapproval of marijuana has remained high, with 64.7 percent reporting they disapprove of adults smoking marijuana regularly.
However, this was the first year in which daily marijuana used outpaced daily cigarette use among eighth graders. Revealing a steep decline in cigarette use but a stable use of daily marijuana use.
Early intervention can prevent many adolescent risk behaviors, according to a number of research programs — including those with the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, last week Stephanie Quick, with the Western Montana Mental Health Clinic invited Ryan Wetzel to speak to area students. Wetzel is a basketball coach, mentor and motivational speaker who works as a mental health professional, raising awareness on substance use and mental health.
Through messages from people like Wetzel, parents, teachers and other community leaders, youth can be encouraged to make a “change for the better in their life,” he said.
St. Regis Principal Shaun Ball relays a similar message: “I believe that people were created with a purpose. Because of that, each of our students were made to do something great in this life. With drugs, the purpose gets lost and in many instances, hope is diminished. I encourage all of our students to take a stand against drugs. To make a commitment to hold each other accountable and to make good choices and encourage them to never lose hope, no matter how bad things get.”