A survey of drug and alcohol use among Montgomery County students indicates a 27 percent decline compared with a similar confidential survey in 1982, according to a report to be presented today to the Montgomery County Board of Education.
Findings from the 1987 survey of 3,700 eighth, 10th and 12th graders indicate that 16 percent of the adolescents said they use or have used drugs. This compares to 22 percent of the students saying five years ago that they used drugs. Alcohol use declined slightly from 76 percent of the students in 1982 to 73 percent in 1987, the report said.
The findings in the Montgomery survey are similar to those of other national studies that suggest an overall decline in drug use -- except for cocaine, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse spokeswoman. A national survey conducted for NIDA in 1986 showed that 50 percent of high school seniors had tried marijuana, a 3.3 percent decline from 1985. Cocaine use held steady, with 17 percent reporting they had tried the drug.
The Montgomery County survey, however, showed a substantial decline in cocaine use: only 3 percent acknowledged they use or have tried cocaine, compared with 8 percent in 1982.
According to the Montgomery report, 17 percent of the students said in 1982 they used or had used hard drugs, which include cocaine, hashish, PCP and heroin, among others. But that figure dropped to 10 percent this year. Likewise, 18 percent of those surveyed in 1982 reported using marijuana, but in the recent survey only 13 percent admitted to using it.
The Montgomery survey results are limited because they rely on the students' accuracy and truthfulness in reporting their drug habits, the report said. Superintendent Harry Pitt said he was hesitant "to put too much weight" on the survey, but said he was pleased that it showed a drop in drug use. "It is good news instead of bad news, which is a change," Pitt said.
School officials credit the apparent drop in drug use to increased media attention and to the drug and alcohol awareness program incorporated into the health education curriculum.
"Approximately half of the students who reported participating in some type of school drug education program indicated that their decisions not to become involved with drugs and alcohol, or to decrease their current use of drugs and alcohol, were affected by their participation in a substance abuse education/intervention school program," the report said.
Beginning in kindergarten, students are educated on substance abuse, according to Betty Takahashi, coordinator of the health education program. Major emphasis on drug awareness comes between the fourth and eighth grades at a time when most youngsters are making their decisions whether to try drugs, she said. Awareness is raised through a number of avenues including films, problem solving, group discussions, and presentations by recovering alcoholics or addicts, Takahashi said.
"We're making progress," Takahashi said. "We still have plenty of young kids with serious problems," she added.
The survey found that younger students experiment with a broader range of drugs, that students with college plans or above-average grades were less likely to use drugs, and that a greater amount of spending money went hand-in-hand with more reported drug and alcohol use. It also found that white males and older students tend to use drugs more frequently.