Reducing youth substance abuse shows progress and a warning

Progress in reducing youth substance abuse is being made, according to MATFORCE Executive Director Merilee Fowler.

Fowler said, "The results of the 2014 Arizona Youth Survey have been announced. With over 2,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students being surveyed in Yavapai County, it gives us an excellent snapshot of youth substance abuse. All the MATFORCE partners, supporters and volunteers can be thanked for the progress we are making in reducing prescription drug and alcohol abuse. However, the rise in marijuana use among youth is an area of huge concern that we are addressing."

The Arizona Youth Survey is conducted every two years by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. The statewide survey assesses a variety of youth issues, including school safety, substance use, antisocial behavior, and the risk and protective factors that correlate to adolescent problem behaviors.

Fowler noted, "Prescription drug abuse is down sharply among our youth. In 2011, MATFORCE launched a pilot project called the Governor's Prescription Drug Abuse Reduction Initiative. The project included extensive youth educational programs in schools and a county-wide awareness campaign. The results are outstanding and our community is to be commended."

One measurement in the survey looks at 30-day drug use, which is an indicator of current use trends. Comparing use from before the prescription drug reduction project to today shows a sharp decline. For the period of 2010 to 2014, 30-day prescription drug abuse declined 28 percent among 8th graders and 61 percent among both 10th and 12th grade students.

Another one of MATFORCE's projects addresses underage drinking, where progress is also being made. From 2010 to 2014, the 30-day use declined among 8th graders by 29 percent and among 10th graders by 12 percent. Alcohol use among 12th grade students rose from 2010, but is down 13 percent from 2012. The survey shows that 44 percent of 12th grade students still report some type of alcohol abuse in the last 30 days, 30 percent of 10th graders and 15 percent of 8th graders.

The survey also reveals that 30-day use of marijuana has risen across the board. Fowler said, "MATFORCE is very concerned about the rise in the number of youth using marijuana. Since the passage of medical marijuana in 2010, we have seen a sharp change in young people's attitudes of how risky marijuana really is for them. Studies noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) continue to show marijuana use causes damage to the developing brain, including a loss of IQ points. Kids are not getting that message."

The survey asks students if they think it is harmful to smoke marijuana once or twice a week. Perception that smoking marijuana is not harmful has risen by 23 percent among 8th grade students, and by 41 percent among 10th and 12th grade students. The survey also reveals that as many as 20 percent of 12th grade users are getting their marijuana from a medical marijuana cardholder.

According to Fowler, the false thinking that marijuana is harmless correlates to the rise in use. In the period from 2010 to 2014, 30-day marijuana use has risen 18 percent among 8th grade students, 14 percent among 10th grade students and 35 percent among 12th grade students. One out of four 12th grade students reports regular use of marijuana.

Fowler concluded, "When we look at the decline of alcohol and prescription drug abuse among the youngest of abusers, we can see a hopeful future because there is a marked downward trend. MATFORCE is working to bring that decline to marijuana use as well. I hope we can help make parents aware just how harmful this drug really is to young people."


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