April 29, 2011
The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Students in the graduating class of Saratoga Springs High School are generally using less drugs, alcohol and tobacco than their year-2000 counterparts according to the results of a November 2010 survey the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council presented to the Board of Education on Thursday night.

“Overall, the trends are starting to go down,” said Maureen Cary, coordinator of the Saratoga Partnership for Prevention with the Prevention Council.

Fifty percent of high school students and eighth graders were surveyed randomly in their gym classes. According to Cary, the results are also cross-checked by a computer to ensure consistency in the answers of individual surveys — the ones with “goofy answers” are tossed.

Though Saratoga Springs High Schoolers have been on a steady decline in most categories since 2000, they remain above the national average for every category save two: cigarette and heroin usage.

“In a resort community — like Saratoga Springs — or any resort community you are going to see higher use rates,” Cary said. She explained in many ways it is due to the density of alcohol concentration and the culture.

Students were asked about whether they had used various substances within the past 30 days. Almost half of juniors and seniors (47.6 percent and 49.4 percent) said they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days and just over 30 percent in each class admitted to binge drinking — that is, imbibing more than five drinks in succession.

“A large percentage of those who report drinking are binge drinking,” Cary said.

Cigarette use dropped to less than half what it was in 2000 — from 35.5 percent to 14.1 percent.

Marijuana use was also in decline, going from a recorded high of 35.9 percent in 2008 to 22.8 percent in November.

But Cary said the current senior class is somewhat of an “unusual group” that has generally lower numbers than most others. “They are very low risk.”

Robin Ambrosino, also with the Prevention Council, said the perception of drug and alcohol use among teens is much higher than the actual usage. While almost 50 percent of students admitted to having imbibed liquor within 30 days of the survey and about 23 percent of students admitted to having smoked marijuana, when students were asked how much of the student body smoked marijuana or drank, the results were around 70 percent for both.

“In our focus groups, we heard from kids who have no trouble telling you everybody smokes pot and everybody drinks,” Cary said, but she said her organization is actively trying to promote the facts by working with students to incorporate the facts into artwork.

“The fact is, 78 percent said ‘no,’” school board member Charles Phillips said. “I’d like to see that in six-foot high letters somewhere. That goes against the ‘cool’ message.”

Phillips was referring to another aspect of the study that indicated as some students entered the high school, they saw things such as alcohol, tobacco and other drug usage as “cool,” something Cary said was a problem area.

In fact, as students made the transition between eighth grade and high school, the number of students who had tried alcohol, binge drinking and marijuana more than quadrupled in all areas. In eighth grade, they were 6, 1 and 2 percent, respectively. In ninth grade, they were 23, 8, and 11 percent respectively.

“The transitions are challenging for kids,” Cary said.