By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Fewer Wood County teens are drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana or cigarettes. And fewer are taking swiped narcotic painkiller prescriptions.
But other troubling trends are emerging. Like Wood County teens’ rate for narcotic use that is still higher than the nation’s, more teens turning to electronic cigarettes and more reporting suicidal thoughts.
Bill Ivoska reported the results of the annual youth surveys of more than 8,000 local students this morning. With the support of the Wood County Educational Service Center and the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, Ivoska has been conducting the annual surveys in all the county school districts since 2004.
“The rates of substance abuse in Wood County were higher than they were in the nation,” when he started 12 years ago, Ivoska said.
But since then, the surveys have shown a steady drop in drug and alcohol use among teens – faster than the decline seen nationally.
“We have had tremendous improvements in the reduction of substance abuse among adolescents,” Ivoska said.
The drop in the use of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol and binge drinking have been drastic, he said. “We are declining in all the major substances.”
When the surveys started in 2004, 70 percent of seniors reported using alcohol. That number is down to 45 percent. In that same period, cigarette use went from 27 percent to 6 percent, and marijuana use went from 36 percent to 22 percent.
Ivoska credited the decreases in risky behaviors to the number of prevention and education programs in local schools and communities. Many of those programs were made possible by grants secured based on the surveys’ findings.
“When I would report this in Lucas County, nobody did anything. They stuck it on the wall,” Ivoska said. But when officials in Wood County started the surveys and saw the results, they went to work to solve the problems, he said.
Despite the positive numbers for many risky teen behaviors, Ivoska cautioned officials to keep an eye on some newer trends like e-cigs, marijuana in edibles and gambling.
“Some substitutes might be emerging,” he said.
“While cigarette use is down, electronic cigarettes have hit the scene,” with 15 percent of seniors reporting use of e-cigs, he said.
Students are also reporting using marijuana in e-cigs and edibles.
“One out of 10 males are having brownies” with weed, he said.
And while narcotic painkiller and heroin use are down, the levels remain higher than the rest of the nation. “While we’re low, we’ve got some work to do,” Ivoska said.
And after some years with no teen suicides, two were recorded last year. More teens are also reporting suicide ideation and attempts. Many said they had serious mental health issues. “Four-hundred some kids are hurting,” he said.
Bullying rates continue to drop. “They are down to the lowest they have been” since first surveyed in 2010.
A new topic covered in the surveys showed that gambling has become a frequent activity with teens, either on sports teams or through the lottery. “It’s becoming culturally acceptable,” Ivoska said.
The survey takes into account that some students aren’t going to be honest.
“Of course they are going to lie. That’s what kids do,” Ivoska said. But the survey questions are designed to catch students who exaggerate or are inconsistent in their answers. For example some students reported taking every drug, every day – even fake drugs that were included in the survey to catch dishonest answers.
“We could ask, ‘Do you take dirt?’ And they would say, ‘Yes, I take dirt,’” Ivoska said. “We throw them out.”
Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards noted the collaborative school and community efforts that are helping to reduce risky behaviors among local teens.
“This is really paying off,” Edwards said. “We’re doing a lot of good things here.”
Tom Clemons, executive director of WCADAMHS, said the surveys help the county respond to student needs. “The impact is noticeable and hard to argue with,” he said. “It’s the only way we can work smarter together.”
Wood County Commissioner Joel Kuhlman said the survey reveals a positive side to local youth.
“The general public does not have this perception of young people today,” he said.
“We have good kids,” said Kyle Clark of WCESC. “They make good decisions – 90.3 percent of youth have not used alcohol, tobacco or drugs in the last 30 days.”
Following are some results for the latest survey:
- Nicotine: Dropped to 6.1 percent of seniors using cigarettes in 30 days. Smokeless tobacco decreased to 2.8 percent among juniors, and 5.4 percent among seniors.
- Electronic cigarettes emerging, with 8.1 percent of freshmen and 14 percent of seniors using.
- Alcohol: Dramatic decline since 2008, with 45.6 percent of seniors reporting annual use. Binge drinking down across all grades with 17.2 percent of seniors reporting 30 day use.
- Marijuana: Rates declined in all grades except sophomores, where slight increase was reported. About 22 percent of seniors reported annual use and 14 percent reported 30 day use.
- Marijuana in e-cigarettes reported by 6.9 percent of seniors and in edibles by 9.8 percent.
- Inhalants: Rates remain low, with sophomores reporting the highest rate of all grades at 2.3 percent.
- Ecstasy: Rates are at all-time low, with only 3.3 percent of seniors reporting use.
- Stimulants: Declined in all grades, and at the lowest levels reported in Wood County.
- LSD: Holds a persistent 3 to 5 percent presence each year.
- Narcotic painkillers: Declined in nearly all grade levels since 2004 with 2016 levels reaching historic lows.
- Cocaine: Lowest levels seen in county, with 2.7 percent of seniors reporting annual use.
- Cough medicine: Reached historic low levels.
- Caffeinated energy drinks: Decreased in all grades, with senior use reported at 34.1 percent.
- Heroin: Rates of use about 1 percent for all grades.
Mental health was also surveyed, since it can be linked with substance abuse. The survey found:
- 7 percent of Wood County youth reported significant mental health problems, an increase of 1.5 percent since 2014.
- 4 percent report moderate mental health problems, an increase of 1 percent.
Bullying was reported at lower levels in all grades since 2014. Verbal bullying is the most prevalent form, with 29.3 percent of eighth graders being victims. Cyber and physical bullying are experienced by 14.5 and 10.6 percent of eighth graders.
Gambling was reported by 3 percent among seventh graders through seniors. The most prevalent types are betting money on sports teams or fantasy sports. The second highest level reported was with lottery games.