Survey reveals high student drug use

The California Healthy Kids Survey, released Nov. 16 by the La Cañada Unified School District, shows that generally, La Cañada students are above state-wide student averages when it comes to drug and alcohol use.

Among the facts revealed by the survey is that 13% of La Cañada High's seventh graders, 17% of its freshmen and 20% of its juniors reported that they'd been offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property within the 12 months preceding the survey.

The survey, administered every two years, investigates seven performance indicators in the state's fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th grades. These indicators include safe schools and violence, tobacco and drug/alcohol use and high levels of school connectedness.

"This information is so important and there is just so much [of it]," said Lindi Dreibelbis Arthur, the district's director of assessment.

Alcohol is the most prevalent substance abused among students surveyed in La Cañada as 38% of fifth graders in last year's polling reported that they'd already tried alcohol. That's a 14% more than the 24% state average. Eighteen percent of La Cañada High's seventh, ninth and 11th graders reported drinking alcohol at least once in the 30 days leading up to the survey.

La Cañada High's juniors are neck-and-neck with the state average when it comes to drinking and driving. Twenty-eight percent of the district's 11th graders reported they'd driven after drinking, or been driven by a friend who'd been drinking, compared to 11% of high-school freshman and the 29% of all high schoolers state-wide. This is a 4% increase from 11th graders polled in the previous survey two years ago.

The survey showed that 11% of Palm Crest Elementary's fifth graders had used inhalants to get high.

"The use of inhalants is surprising," school board member Cindy Wilcox said. "It's one of the big things we need to look out for."

Eleven percent is nearly triple the 4% average of fifth graders state-wide who've used inhalants, including aerosol products including cleaning materials, to get high. It's also significantly higher than the 3% and 1% averages at Paradise Canyon and La Cañada Elementary Schools, respectively.

"That number is consistently high because inhalants are usually the first thing kids dabble in," Arthur said. School officials were unable to explain why the percentage is higher at Palm Crest than it is at the other two schools.

Hard drugs aren't common among the La Cañada High students surveyed. Results showed 4.4% of freshman and juniors polled had tried either cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD or other psychedelics, ecstasy or heroin.

One of the bright spots revealed by the survey is that district seventh graders appear to be saying no to drugs. When asked if they'd used alcohol in the last 30 days, 95% of La Cañada High's seventh graders said no. Ninety-nine percent of them answered the same way when asked about marijuana.

"I think the parent and the community play a role in student's choices," Arthur said.

Most of La Cañada's parents seem to realize the importance of this connection. Seventy-one percent of La Cañada High's seventh, ninth and 11th graders reported talking with their parents about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and drug use. The average for California's high school students is 55%.

Results show this number declines with student age, falling from 75% to 71% to 68% from seventh to 11th grade. But it becomes a bigger problem as students get older.

"It'd be a good idea if the parents received this information, perhaps at Parent Teacher Association meetings, so they know what to be looking out for," Wilcox said.

The entire California Healthy Kids Survey can be viewed online at http://chks.wested.org/reports.

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