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Survey Finds Teen Drug and Alcohol Use Rising

Board of Education works to revise substance abuse policy.

In Livingston, the number of students reporting drug and alcohol use is higher than the national level, according to the results of an Alcohol and Drug Survey released Monday by the school district.

Of high school seniors responding to the anonymous survey, 46 percent admitted to drinking in the past month. Thirty-one percent said they had been drunk and 23 percent admitted smoking marijuana.

School officials -- who are currently working on a new substance abuse policy -- say these numbers don’t tell the full story. The numbers are considered low estimates because only 589 Livingston students responded to the survey, which required parental approval, a decrease by half who participated three years ago. Moreover, they believe that students who respond with parental approval are less likely to be users.

The findings from this survey are especially chilling because students from this sample group are admitting in high numbers to using drugs and alcohol before school, at school events, and at parties. Of concern is the 20 percent of high school seniors who said they did something sexual and regretted it after drinking, and 29 percent who said they couldn’t remember what happened.

The results were presented by Mary Oates, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and will be posted on the district’s Web site.

According to the survey results, drug and alcohol use is beginning in the middle school years. By 12th grade, 6 percent admitted to drinking on the way to school; 26 percent before school events; 19 percent at school events; 62 percent at parties; 16 percent at home where parents know; and 25 percent at home where parents do not know.

The student representative to the board of education, Jennifer Wu, noted drug and alcohol use by students distracts from classroom learning. “When kids come to class high, it brings down the entire class,” she said.

The Livingston Board of Education devoted a large portion of Monday night’s meeting to drafting language for a policy on substance abuse that was approved after its first reading. The policy will be further revised for clarification of the consequences for refusing drug testing within a specific time frame. The policy is part of revisions to the entire Code of Conduct.

The drug problem in high schools is a national epidemic, and one that up until recent years was mostly swept under the carpet, according to board member Charles Granata. He credited retiring Principal Pamela Clause McGroarty for taking a tough stance on substance abuse with intervention and treatment options.

“At least those kids who are being identified have a chance,” Granata said.

The change to the current policy will place more of a burden on parents of students referred for drug testing to have the testing done within a two-hour time frame. However, school officials have repeatedly said they expect the numbers for referral to remain at current levels.

“This fear that too many students are being tested” is unfounded, said Dr. Brad Draeger, Superintendent of Schools. “We probably need to be doing more.”

Over the past five years, 80 students have been tested for drugs, McGroarty said. Of that group, 28 tested negative; and 44 positive, most for THC (marijuana). Of those testing negative, other issues affecting the student have surfaced, usually a mental health issue like depression.

“You can’t help a kid until you rule out the drug use,” McGroarty said.

The district sponsors a variety of programs with community groups to increase drug and alcohol awareness. It will also restore the full-time student assistant counsel (SAC) at Livingston High School as part of efforts to decrease the number of students drinking and using drugs.

The school board will again consider the changes to the Code of Conduct and substance abuse policy when it meets 8 a.m. Monday, July 18  at the Board of Education offices on Foxcroft Drive.

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