AISD surveys substance use
Middle school students who smoke take their first drag on a cigarette at age 11.
High school students who drink have their first taste of alcohol at age 13.
And nearly half of all high schoolers have drunk within the past 30 days.
That's according to an Amarillo Independent School District survey administered to middle and high school students. The district began using the survey three years ago, during the 2000-01 school year.
"We survey at least 10 percent of sixth, eighth, ninth and 12th grades," said Teresa Cervantez, drug prevention specialist for the Caprock High School cluster.
The survey doesn't show any drastic changes in tobacco, alcohol or drug use over the past three years.
But among middle-schoolers there was a slight decrease in the use of smokeless tobacco, Cervantez said, while alcohol use increased slightly.
A similar trend exists among high schoolers - tobacco use is down, but alcohol use is up slightly, she said.
The district makes an effort to target the younger grades - even into elementary school - with drug prevention programs, Cervantez said.
"We definitely want to work on kids especially at the fifth- and sixth-grade level," Cervantez said. The longer students wait to use, the less likely they are to use at all.
To persuade students not to use drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, each district high school has a drug prevention club. At Amarillo High School, that organization is SADD - Students Against Destructive Decisions.
AHS junior Neelima Marupudi, a member of SADD, said that she thinks drugs and alcohol are real problems at Amarillo schools.
"It's just influence and peer pressure, and it's actually starting so much earlier," she said.
That's why SADD takes anti-drug programs to every elementary and middle school within its cluster.
"We're starting in fourth and fifth grade," Marupudi said.
According to the survey, alcohol is the biggest problem facing AISD students. In high school, 75 percent of students have used alcohol at least once in their lives, compared to 51 percent of students smoking a cigarette at least once.
That might be because prevention programs have been targeting smoking more than drinking, Marupudi said. Alcohol has taken a back seat to cigarettes - but this year, programs have started to focus more on drinking.
When it comes to illicit drug use, the survey doesn't reveal as much information. The numbers do show that 94 percent of middle schoolers and 89 percent of high schoolers have never used drugs other than marijuana and inhalants.