Fewer seventh- and ninth-grade students in Laguna Beach schools reported drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana in 2012 than two years ago, but the number of 11th graders reporting use of alcohol or pot one or more times was unchanged at about 48 percent and 25 percent respectively, according to results of the 2012 Healthy Kids Survey.
“This is concerning,” Irene White, the district’s director of special education who also leads drug and alcohol prevention programs, told school board members during a presentation about the results on Tuesday.
In all, 66 percent of fifth graders participated in the voluntary and self-reported survey, as well as 81 percent of seventh graders, 88 percent of ninth graders and 85 percent of 11th graders.
Begun in 1997 and funded by the state Department of Education, the district administers the Healthy Kids Survey every two years to cull data about students’ well being. The survey targets resilience indicators and school connectedness, alcohol and other drug use, tobacco use, and violence, safety, physical and mental health.
White also found troublesome that 45 percent of 11th graders surveyed viewed the consumption of five or more drinks twice a week to be only moderately to slightly harmful and that 29 percent of 11th graders reported they had yet to hold a conversation on the topic with their parents.
The survey data reveals that 13 and 14 year olds are the most vulnerable for first time use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. As a result, prevention efforts must take start as young as 11 or 12 to be effective, White said. The survey also indicated that greater percentages of students in grades 7, 9 and 11 are delaying use of alcohol and marijuana.
The findings come just two days after the local screening of “Behind the Orange Curtain,” which documents an epidemic of teen prescription-drug abuse in Orange County.
The survey shows Laguna kids are not immune to the problem: 18 percent of 11th graders admitted to taking one or more prescription pain killers, a small drop from 19 percent compared to 2010. However, just 6 percent of ninth graders reported taking painkillers in 2012, compared to 16 percent in 2010.
White admitted that implementing effective drug and alcohol prevention requires hard work, but administrators have made progress, remain motivated and have resolved to do more. This includes a new research-based life skills curriculum called Botvins in grades four through nine, beginning this year with grades four, five, eight and nine, and moving forward with grades six and seven next year.
Additionally, the drug prevention steering committee has already begun work on a three-year alcohol and other drug implementation plan focused on prevention, intervention and restoration. They reviewed the survey data earlier this week and have already drafted a plan.
“We need to create a culture of open communication about the facts,” said White. “We owe it to our kids to educate them about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.”
Fortunately, school board members support increased spending in this area, she said.