Most Manassas teenagers appear to shy away from using illicit drugs, such as cocaine and hallucinogens, but not from drinking beer and liquor, according to the results of a survey conducted last spring of more than 1,700 Manassas sixth- through 12th- graders.
About 58 to 67 percent of all high school students reported drinking liquor or wine coolers or beer at least once during the past year. In junior high school, 19 to 31 percent of all sixth- through eighth-graders said they drank one of those alcoholic beverages at least once during the past year.
The reports on frequent to very frequent drinking were lower, but still of significant concern to school officials. Twenty-nine to 43 percent of all high school students, and 6 to 9 percent of all junior high school students said they drank one of those beverages frequently or very frequently, with beer being the most popular beverage.
Most of the students' drinking was limited to weekends at home, in cars or "other" places, and with friends. Many said they did not think alcohol, such as a wine cooler, was harmful to their health, according to the survey results.
Many fewer students reported using marijuana and other illicit drugs -- the most favored being uppers, hallucinogens and inhalants, such as glue and "white out" correction fluid.
The survey results, which were released to the School Board in late September, have prompted several school officials to call for a heavier emphasis on the dangers of alcohol abuse in the schools' substance abuse prevention programs.
"It appears that we are doing a good job on other substances, but as far as the alcohol consumption, we obviously haven't gotten to the bottom of that issue," said School Board member William Joyner.
The survey, drafted by Pride Inc., a national substance abuse prevention organization, is the first ever in Manassas of sixth-graders through eighth-graders and the most extensive for senior high school students.
Students were asked about the frequency and circumstances under which they used tobacco, alcohol and drugs. They also were asked about their home and family lives, such as their parents' level of education and whether students watched rock videos. Manassas has decided to conduct the survey every two years.
According to the survey results, cigarettes also appeared popular, with about 12 percent of all junior high students and about 35 percent of all senior high students reporting that they smoked frequently. About 22 percent of junior high students and almost 48 percent of senior high students said they had smoked at least once in the past 12 months.
Ranking next in reported use by regular and one-time users was marijuana. Eight percent of all senior high students and almost 2 percent of all junior high students said they used the drug frequently. Almost 4 percent of the junior high students and almost 19 percent of the senior high students used it at least once in the previous year.
About 2.4 percent of all junior high students and almost 8.5 percent of senior high students reported using uppers, such as amphetamines, at least once during the past 12 months. About half those numbers of students reported using uppers frequently to very frequently: 1.5 percent of all junior high students and 4.1 percent of all senior high students.
About 4.8 percent of high school students reported using hallucinogens frequently and 8.5 percent reported using them at least once during the past 12 months.
Just under 1 percent of junior high students said they used hallucinogens regularly and just over 1 percent said they had taken them at least once in the past 12 months.
The use of hallucinogens and uppers appeared to peak in the 10th through 11th grades, with 2 to 3 percent of the students saying they used hallucinogens or uppers frequently.
Anthony Dursa, assistant principal at Baldwin Elementary School, who helped coordinate the survey, and other school officials said they hoped the survey results would help raise the parents' and community's awareness of substance abuse among adolescents.
"If there is any denial that there is a problem, we can show them that there is," said Dursa, explaining that the schools want to make this information available to community groups and churches. "Hopefully this increased level of awareness will be the catalyst to get people moving."