BALTIMORE – Drug use among Maryland teens has continued to decrease over the past six years, according to a survey released Tuesday, but administrators are concerned about the increasing popularity of designer drugs.
“While we feel good about (the results), there is one drug that has become a major problem and that is ecstasy,” said Lynn Linde, chief of the Maryland State Department of Education Student Services and Alternative Programs branch.
Student responses to more than three-fourths of the questions answered showed their drug and alcohol use declining, placing them slightly below the national average in most categories, according to the biennial Maryland Adolescent Survey, released by the state Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday.
The survey polled about 34,500 sixth-, seventh-, 10th- and 12th-graders statewide at public schools to determine their tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug use.
Administrators are worried the use of ecstasy and similar drugs, which has quadrupled in the past 10 years, may continue its sharp increase.
About 5 percent of Maryland 12th-graders reported they’d used ecstasy within 30 days of the survey, a figure about 1 percentage point above the national average. The Maryland figure is 2 percentage points higher than it was in 1998.
Programs tailored specifically to combat ecstasy use have recently been implemented at schools.
“Almost a year ago, (drug prevention coordinators) identified the growing threat of ecstasy, confirmed by these results and implemented the Ecstasy Action Plan using prevention, enforcement, treatment and monitoring to combat this problem,” said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
The survey also showed alcohol use declined slightly but remained the most popular drug among Maryland teen-agers. Nearly half of the nation’s 12th-graders reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to about 47 percent of Maryland students.
But students at Caroline County high schools said alcohol isn’t as easy to get as marijuana, cited in the survey as one of the most popular illicit drugs. The students were participating last week in a forum organized by the state attorney general to discuss teen-agers’ concerns. Marijuana use was identified as a main problem. Students said it’s easier to find someone at school with a drug supply than it is to buy alcohol at a convenience store. “It is a problem,” said Jordan Parkhurst, a junior at North Caroline Senior High. “There’s always a way to smuggle pot to a kid.”
About one-fourth of 12th-graders surveyed used marijuana in the past 30 days. The number is down from last year, yet is still about 1 percentage point above the national average. The easy availability is one of the reasons for the high usage, Caroline students said.
Cigarettes are also easy to come by, whether buying them from a gas station or getting them from a friend, the students said.
Cigarette use is so prevalent, Parkhurst said, he sometimes reeks of smoke just using the bathroom because of students smoking there.
But cigarette use is down 3 percentage points from 1998 to 25 percent of Maryland 12th-graders, according to the survey. And it remains about four points below the national average.
Starting anti-drug programs early in school, especially peer prevention classes, is a reason for the decline, administrators said. But keeping students drug free is increasingly a problem. Most drug use at least doubles from sixth grade to the time students enter high school and then rises again by graduation. “In 12th grade, they’re making up for lost ground,” said Tina Henry, Caroline County director of pupil services. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we are seeing some promising results.” – 30 – CNS-9-25-01