Survey: 2/3rds of UHS seniors had used alcohol, 40% tried marijuana
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The numbers are stark: two-thirds of Unionville High School seniors had consumed an alcoholic beverage at some point — and nearly half had consumed one within 30 days of a survey taken in the fall of 2011.
More frighteningly, a survey suggests that students say they think smoking tobacco is far more dangerous than using marijuana or drinking alcohol.
School district officials, the Chester County Council On Addictive Diseases (COAD), and parents gathered Thursday night to look at the numbers from a 2011 survey of students by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. A discussion group followed the reveal of the numbers.
While the numbers don’t vary much from those in surrounding Chester County school districts, the results, which come from the student answers of 777 sixth, eighth, tenth and twelves grade students in the fall of 2011, may come as a surprise to some parents. Officials said that it was likely any student surveys where students exaggerated or fabricated responses were eliminated through four sets of criteria designed to catch such surveys.
For instance, some 40% of Unionville High School seniors reported using marijuana at least once, and 29.6% reported using it within 30 days of the survey. Almost half of the 12th grade students reported consuming alcohol — 49% — within 30 days of the survey. The numbers, according to the survey are in line with those seen statewide.
Of greater concern, though, were higher numbers than seen nationally for binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a row during the previous two weeks): 31.1% of Unionville High School seniors said they had done it.
Alarmingly, 19.6% of Unionville seniors reported having driven a car after using alcohol, while 23.7% of the same group reported driving after smoking marijuana.
Although the use numbers probably will give parents and educators pause, the perceptions of students of the relative dangers and their willingness to experiment may well keep both up at night.
78% of seniors at Unionville High School said they were willing to try alcohol, 49.2% said they were willing to try marijuana, 9.3% willing to try cocaine, 19.5% willing to try hallucinogens and 4.2% willing to try inhaled substances (glue, paint, etc.). Those numbers — especially those concerning alcohol and marijuana, were notably higher than the state average.
While 73.6% of Unionville seniors said smoking cigarettes regularly represented a “great risk,” just 29.2% had the same opinion on drinking alcohol regularly, and just 31.6% had that opinion about using marijuana regularly. In the same sample group, just 39.2% said they disapproved of drinking, and 54.7% disapproved of using marijuana, as compared with 65.2% disapproving tobacco use. 87.3% did disapprove of the use of other illicit drugs.
Potentially more chilling, only 47.1% of Unionville seniors said their parents disapproved of them drinking alcohol regularly and 68.1% of them said their parents disapproved of them smoking marijuana, as compared with 74.5% of parents said to disapprove of smoking tobacco.
Peer approval numbers — an assessment of the perceived attitudes of their fellow classmates — were equally concerning. The survey said that 30% of Unionville seniors said their peers approved of drinking alcohol, while 23.3% approved the use of marijuana. In the same survey, just 8.9% approved the use of tobacco.
One other concerning number — one that Superintendent of Schools John Sanville said could impact how and what is taught younger students in the health curriculum — 4.3% of district sixth graders said they had used inhalants such as glue or paint thinner in the 30-day period prior to the survey.
There were some positive numbers that came out of the survey, though.
Although there have been increasing warnings of heroin use of late — and any use is troubling — but only 0.8% percent of seniors admitted to trying the highly addictive drug, amounting to two students. None of the sixth, eighth or tenth grade students said they had tried the drug.
In general, Unionville students appear happier than the average student in Pennsylvania.
Among sixth grade students in the survey, 16.2% of Unionville students said they felt “sad or depressed most days.” That compares to 27.6% of students in the same age bracket statewide.
Similar numbers emerged from the older students: 13.9% of Unionville eighth graders said they felt that way, as compared to 30.1% of statewide students. Among Unionville tenth graders, 21.8% said they felt sad or depressed most days, while the statewide number was 32.8%. Among seniors, the gap was even larger, 21.4% versus 33.4%.
District students also largely fared better than average when it came to risk and protective factors — community and family factors largely seen as having a large impact on whether young people engage in dangerous and risky behavior.
Following the numbers discussion led by Patton Middle School Assistant Principal Jim Fulginiti and Jocelyn Taylor, Executive Director of the Exton-based COAD, the conversation moved from the school’s auditorium to the library and broke into four discussion groups on the topics: drug abuse, sex and relationships, mental health and bullying.