FALMOUTH – The percentage of Falmouth High School students who admit to
binge drinking and alcohol consumption has grown sharply in the past
two years and is above the state average, according to results of the 2008 Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Use Survey.
More than 20 percent of Falmouth’s ninth- through 12th-graders participated in binge drinking in the two weeks prior to the survey, up
from 13 percent in 2006. That compared with just over 18 percent statewide,
a figure that was down from 21.6 percent in the 2006 survey.
For alcohol consumption, 37 percent of FHS students admitted drinking
within 30 days prior to the survey, up from 31.8 percent in 2006 and 2 percent higher than the state average.
Both statistics, however, have declined since the first survey eight years ago.
In 2000, alcohol consumption for FHS students was more than 47 percent,
5 percent above the state average. Binge drinking was at 21 percent,
only slightly higher than this year’s figure and 2 percent below
the state’s 2000 results.
In the breakdown by grade level, juniors had the highest levels of alcohol consumption, with nearly half admitting to drinking within the
prior 30-day period, compared to 38 percent statewide. For binge
drinking, close to a quarter of the junior class and more than 37
percent of the senior class said they participated in the behavior
within the two weeks prior to the survey, as opposed to just over 20
percent of junior and 26 percent of seniors statewide.
Marijuana use was reported by 17 percent of students, down a percentage point from 2006, and 2 percent lower than the state average.
But FHS students are starting marijuana use
later than the state average, and once they start, a higher percentage
of them are using.
The breakdown by grade shows a huge increase in prior 30-day use from
sophomore to junior year. The figures jump from just under 5 percent of
10th-graders, compared with 17.3 percent statewide, to 26.5 percent of
11th-graders, compared with 22.5 percent statewide.
In 12th grade, Falmouth students increase their pot use, with a
third of the senior class admitting to using marijuana within the 30
days prior to the survey, while the state average is a quarter of
Robin Haley, the school district’s substance abuse coordinator, said
Monday the survey results did not come as a surprise to her. In fact,
when high school students were asked recently to predict the results
before an in-school discussion with them about the survey, most guessed
the numbers would be even higher, she said.
Haley said it is good for
students to see the perception that everybody drinks or does drugs is
not true.
“I think as we look at the trends that we still continue to make some
progress in numbers declining,” she said. “Certainly we want to
continue to look at it. It’s important because we have this information
and we can keep the community better educated as to trends and to
behaviors around and attitudes toward alcohol and other substances.”
But the district did not plan to release the results to the public until The Forecaster requested a copy last week.
At the Dec. 15 School Board meeting, FHS Principal Allyn Hutton said
she and neighboring educators planned to release a comparison of data
from Falmouth, Greely, Yarmouth and Freeport high schools anonymously
so no one would know which school had which results.
When first asked to provide results of the FHS survey, Hutton refused.
But when she was reminded that the results had been provided to the
students for their discussion, and then had been collected so that
students were unable to bring them home, Hutton complied.
Cumberland High School Principal Chris Mosca did not return phone calls
regarding the survey, and Yarmouth High School Principal Ted Hall
refused to provide results because he said he had not had time to
discuss them with students and parents.
“I’m not ready to share it yet,” Hall said. “It would completely derail what we’re going to do.”
Hall said he planned to share the information in January. He said he received the results three to four weeks ago.
While Haley said she does not take the survey results lightly, she said she also thinks
it’s important to note how many students choose not to drink, binge
drink or use marijuana.
“It’s always difficult because even though alcohol is legal over 21,
teens have access to it,” she said. “And marijuana continues to be a
substance of great concern.”
Calling marijuana a “gateway drug” that leads to other drug use, Haley
said many students carry the misconception that its function as a
medicinal drug makes it safe and acceptable as “nature’s drug.”
“Now that it’s the major drug of choice, there’s more research on its negative effects,” she said.
As Haley, Hutton and other educators seek to reduce students’ alcohol
and drug use, Haley said they must involve the students, school,
parents and community in the process.
Calling the parents’ role in
prevention “very significant,” she said many students say their parents
never discuss the topic with them.
As a result, nearly 45 percent of FHS sophomores said they perceive their
parents’ attitude to drug use is favorable, compared with 39 percent
statewide. This perception makes them
more at risk for participation in the behavior.
The percentage declines
by 10 percentage points in senior year while the state number increases
by more than five percentage points.
Haley advises parents to talk to their teens, letting them know exactly
what their beliefs are and setting hard boundaries with consequences to
help deter their children from participating in drug and alcohol use.
The survey reflects positive results in several areas. Cigarette use continues to decline, with just 7.5 percent reporting that they have smoked in the 39-day period, as opposed to more than 17 percent statewide. Prescription drug use in Falmouth is 8.7 percent, 6 percentage points under the state average, though it held steady from 2006. And FHS inhalant and stimulant use, at 6.8 percent and 2.7 percent respectively, while rising slightly from the 2006 results, remain in a downward trend and below the state average.
“It is challenging for teenagers to make good decisions,” Haley said.
“Make a plan with your sons and daughters, talk about your feelings. If
we begin to create boundaries, certainly there’s crossing that line but
if there’s no boundary, they’re trying to figure it out themselves.”

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.

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