--A statewide survey released Tuesday found that more than half of California’s high school juniors have experimented with drugs and 85% have tried alcohol, with the highest use reported in rural areas and among white students.
The survey, called the first of its kind in California, found that a major surge in drug use occurs between the seventh and ninth grades. By the 11th grade, the study discovered, more students are smoking marijuana than tobacco cigarettes.
“It is a sad and sobering reality that trying drugs is no longer the exception among high school students,” said Atty. Gen John Van de Kamp, who commissioned the study. “It is the norm.”
Surprisingly, Van de Kamp told a press conference, the survey found proportionately higher drug and alcohol use among junior high and high school students in rural areas of California than in Los Angeles and other cities. Contradicting a prevalent stereotype, the study also showed that white students were more likely to use alcohol and marijuana than any other racial or ethnic group. Students of Asian descent were least likely to try drugs and alcohol.
The survey of 7,379 students in the seventh, ninth and 11th grades was conducted by Rodney Skager, associate dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education, last winter. Skager said the students were selected at random from 87 secondary schools around the state and guaranteed anonymity.
Because such a statewide survey has never been conducted before, Van de Kamp said there was no way of directly comparing the findings with the level of drug and alcohol abuse in the years before.
According to the survey, 10.7% of the seventh-graders reported using illegal drugs at least once. Nearly 58% said they had tried alcohol but only 15.8% said they had actually gotten drunk.
Among the ninth-graders, 35.7% said they had tried drugs, while 77.6% said they had tried alcohol and 47.1% said they had become intoxicated.
Of the 11th-graders surveyed, 51.4% reported trying drugs, 85% said they had tried alcohol at least once and 65.2% said they had gotten drunk. One in every 13 students in this age group reported smoking marijuana every day. Van de Kamp said, however, that in all age groups fewer students use drugs on a regular basis than use them only occasionally.
Marijuana was by far the most commonly used drug, followed by cocaine, amphetamines and inhalants such as glue. Among seventh-graders, however, inhalants were the most commonly used drug.
Because of the increase in drug and alcohol use between seventh and ninth grades, Van de Kamp called for educational prevention programs to begin as early as kindergarten.
One positive finding of the survey, Van de Kamp said, was that 70% of the 11th-graders said they had never smoked tobacco. The attorney general attributed this to anti-smoking programs in the schools and said similar educational programs could be effective in reducing drug and alcohol use.