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Yellow Springs middle and high school student drug use assessed

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On Monday, Yellow Springs students filled out the latest version of the Dayton Area Drug Survey, a bi-annual survey designed to collect data on the substance use habits of area students. Seventh, ninth and 12th graders voluntarily took the survey, which is administered by researchers at Wright State University. Lisa Cron, the Drug Prevention Coordinator at the Greene Educational Services Center, said the results of the survey provide a better understanding of teen drug use, and what the schools and community can do to address it.

“We are not here to bust or judge anybody,” she said. “We look at trends to see what areas of prevention we need to be improving.”

The survey is a collaboration between area school districts and the Center for Interventions, Treatment and Addictions Research at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine, which began the survey in 1990. The 2014 study, the most recent, was taken by almost 10,000 students from 15 Miami Valley schools, including Yellow Springs High School. The answers are recorded anonymously, and students are able to opt out of participating.

Students answer approximately 60 questions spanning a variety of drugs and the frequency of use. Seniors are given supplemental questions about how drug use overlaps with their driving and work habits. The 2016 survey has been updated to include questions about marijuana legalization and e-cigarettes. The study also asks students about their social lives, bullying and happiness at home.

At this month’s school board meeting, Tim Krier, principal of McKinney Middle/Yellow Springs High School, discussed the district’s participation in the survey and underscored the value of its data. Heroin is typically thought to be the foremost problem in schools, he said, but the study revealed it is not.

The most recent data, drawn from the 2014 survey, shows that alcohol, tobacco and marijuana remain the most frequently tried substances in Yellow Springs and in the other schools participating in the survey. Cron said alcohol and tobacco use have gone down “drastically” over the last few years thanks in part to more effective outreach programs and anti-drug campaigns.

While aggregate data shows that overall drug use has declined since a peak in 2000, researchers cautioned that this doesn’t mean problems aren’t still there. Drug prevention efforts tend to stop after ninth grade, yet studies show that the number of students experimenting with substances doubles over the next three years, according to the summary published about the 2014 survey.

Cron, who provides alcohol, drug and tobacco prevention programming for schools in Greene County, stated that the survey has helped inform what approach the schools in Greene County take.

Past strategies, such as the DARE approach, have fallen by the wayside, Cron said. Explaining the variety and effects of every kind of drug to children is not particularly helpful, she said. Instead, bolstering peer resistance skills and helping students figure out what activities they feel passionate about tend to be more effective.

Krier said the district wants to empower students not only to make decisions that are best for them, but to know how to respond to difficult situations.

“We aren’t going to stop students from drinking and smoking,” he said, “but we can teach people about consent, and what to do about finding someone with alcohol poisoning.”

Yellow Springs schools take drug use seriously, he said. Being caught with drugs of any kind on school property automatically warrants a 10-day suspension, with a recommendation of expulsion, but the school also strives to understand the factors that contribute to a student’s drug use.

Thus students caught with drugs have the option of seeing a counselor and taking part in a program during which they’ll promise to abstain from using drugs, he said. If all parents, school officials and the student agree to this approach, the suspension will be reduced to three days. The idea is to give a student the chance to learn from a mistake, and help them along the way.

“No dumb choice should be a forever sentence and the end of what a person can contribute to the world,” Krier said.

Indeed, said Cron, identifying students who might be at risk and helping them is critical to preventing problems further down the road.

“A genetic history of addiction can be one of the most crucial factors,” she said, “and it’s important to be aware of how quickly addiction can be triggered.”

Despite the fact that the survey shows Yellow Springs students do experiment with drugs, Krier said the results are in some ways reassuring. The data compiled  show that district students experiment with drugs with approximately the frequency as other area schools. While some amount of experimentation is to be expected among a curious teenage population, Krier said, the village’s arguably more liberal attitude towards substance use doesn’t appear to be reflected in the frequency of drug experimentation among its students. This says something about their integrity and individuality, he said.

Even the fact that students voluntarily take a survey probing them about drug use speaks for their earnestness, Krier said. While some surveys have to be excluded from consideration for falsified responses — occasionally surveys indicate use of every single drug at the highest possible frequency — students want to contribute, Krier said, because they care about each other’s wellbeing.

In an ideal world, no kid would be using any drug, Krier said. Their brains and bodies are still developing, and there can be real consequences and repercussions because of it, he said. There are other, more fulfilling things to explore that really speak to an individual student’s interests and passions.

“We don’t want them experimenting with drugs,” he said, “we want them experimenting with ideas, music, social situations.”

Data from past studies can be found at The data from the 2016 survey are expected to be published in September.

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