2017-01-20 / Schools

Alcohol and tobacco use down among county kids, survey shows

By Michael Aushenker

Ventura County school districts are seeing an across-the-board decline in alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use among students, according to a recently released California Department of Education report.

The California Healthy Kids Survey, which does not measure the use of opioids, has been administered to seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders every two years since 1999. The state released the 2015-16 report earlier this month.

“We’re pleased to see that the cumulative impact of education, policy and regulation of substances is paying off for a majority of our Ventura County youth,” said Antonio Castro, associate superintendent for educational services at the Ventura County Office of Education. “Given changing attitudes and access to marijuana, coordinated collaboration among our regional prevention partners remains a priority.”

Local highlights

The 2015-16 survey indicates that lifetime alcohol use by ninth- and 11th-graders countywide has declined 20 percent over the past eight years. Binge drinking by 11th-graders has declined by 12 percent.

Over the same eight-year period, lifetime cigarette use among ninth-graders has declined 13 percent and is down 18 percent among 11th-graders.

About 25 percent of ninth-graders reported having used an e-cigarette — down 3 percent from two years ago. Meanwhile, 37 percent of 11th-graders said they’d used an e-cigarette, up 1 percentage point from two years ago.

While smoking pot is increasing among ninth- and 11thgraders statewide, it is declining among Ventura County students. Lifetime marijuana use by ninth-graders has declined by 12 percent over the past four years and by 9 percent among 11th-graders.

“I’m excited to see that we’ve made some progress,” said Shannon McCabe, prevention education coordinator for the Simi Valley Unified School District. “It reflects the efforts that we’re doing — prevention and presentations on advocacy — has been effective.”

“The numbers are going down countywide, and our district is better than the county average,” said Tara Thomas, a teacher in Moorpark Unified School District.

Keeping the statistics down

According to SVUSD, MUSD and Conejo Valley Unified School District administrators, Ventura County statistics are declining because the districts have been vigilant about combating substance abuse and smoking through education. “Our prevention piece is having the teachers be more sympathetic and working with students,” said Juan Santos, director of student support services for CVUSD.

Across Ventura County, districts employ programs to discourage drug use. They include Model Smoking Prevention Program (MSPP), which is taught in all sixth-grade classrooms; Project Alert, a program for all seventh- and eighth-grade science classes addressing alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and inhalants; and Project Toward No Drugs, a health-class initiative.

All county school districts participate in the state-grant-backed Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE), a middle-school program intended to combat all types of cigarettes, including marijuana joints. All sixth-grade students tour the County Tobacco Bus, a mobile educational tool.

Districts hold speaker series where they invite representatives from such entities as Ventura County Public Health, Ventura County Behavioral Health and Simi Valley Hospital to visit ninth-grade health classes.

Student leaders also help facilitate campus-wide anti-tobacco and anti-drug campaigns such as Red Ribbon Week and Kick Butts Day, while Teens Kick Ash invites keynote speakers and inspires student advocacy and creativity in the form of PSA videos, poster contests and student journalism.

Thomas manages Moorpark Unified’s three-year, $78,264 TUPE budget. MUSD is two years into its three-year grant. Last September, her district learned that TUPE may be soon extended to five years.

She is proud that her district has maintained a course for seventh-graders taught by certified health teachers and not folded into science courses.

“They’re not just getting the tobacco-use education, but they’re getting a (more thorough) comprehensive health class,” Thomas said.

That includes education about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol as well as good nutrition habits.

Keeping a seventh-grade health class intact is crucial, Thomas said.

“That’s the age when the experimentation and the questioning starts,” she said.

An ongoing effort

With a recent rise of access to and deaths from opioids and with the passage of Proposition 64 sending a mixed message regarding recreational marijuana, administrators at all county school districts say their efforts to educate students on the inherent harmfulness of drugs, alcohol and tobacco must persist.

Marijuana’s legalization notwithstanding, Thomas said, Moorpark teachers will continue emphasizing pot’s adverse effects on the developing brain.

Santos said drug education and scrutiny will be applied to Conejo Valley athletic and other extracurricular programs.

School administrators throughout the county will participate in a day-long multi-agency conference March 17 at VCOE’s Camarillo headquarters, where various members of Ventura County’s law enforcement community, California Highway Patrol and Ventura County Behavioral Health, as well as Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin, will address the aftermath of California’s legalization of marijuana as well as opioids and other drug trends.

“Looking forward, our objectives are not going to change,” SVUSD’s McCabe said. “We will continue to educate (students) and to promote healthy choices.”

To view local statistics from the California Healthy Kids survey, visit https://goo.gl/9XdQju.

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