Survey finds tobacco use down, Ecstasy use up
AUSTIN - There's good news and bad news in the 2002 Texas School Survey conducted by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. And there's also important news about the role of parents in their kids' alcohol use.
First, the good news. Tobacco use by students decreased considerably since 2000, according to the survey of 238,000 students in grades 4-12. In fact, tobacco use has declined over the past four years.
The percentage of students using tobacco dropped 19 percent since 2000 and 31 percent since 1998. For example, tobacco use by elementary students decreased 34 percent in 2002 to 4.8 percent.
''The survey demonstrates that the state's efforts to reduce teen tobacco use are working,'' said Dave Wanser, executive director of the commission.
The survey, largest of its kind in the nation, is conducted every two years by the alcohol and drug abuse commission and the Texas A&M University Public Policy Research Institute.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that alcohol is the most widely used substance among Texas students in grades 7-12, with 71 percent of students reporting they had used alcohol at some point in their lives. This percentage has remained relatively steady in recent years.
Marijuana remained the most commonly used substance among students after alcohol and tobacco. Thirty-two percent of 7th-12th graders in 2002 smoked marijuana at some point in their lives, which was the same as in 2000.
The reduction in tobacco use is good news. The bad news is that student use of the drug Ecstasy, popular on the rave scene, has increased 63 percent since 2000. Ecstasy is a synthetic drug considered part hallucinogen and part amphetamine.
Ectasy popularity is worrying
The percentage of students reporting use of Ecstasy in the month before the survey increased from 1.9 percent in 2000 to 3.1 percent in 2002. Three percent doesn't seem like much, but the growing popularity of the drug has state officials concerned that those numbers will only increase in years to come.
The drug is more popular among younger students. For example, seventh graders' use of Ecstasy skyrocketed 133 percent and 91 percent among eighth graders. Twenty-six percent of students say Ecstasy is very or somewhat easy to obtain.
The Texas results mirror a nationwide problem. Ecstasy use nationally rose 20 percent in 2001 and has skyrocketed 71 percent since 1999.
Some students may mistakenly think Ecstasy is less harmful than other drugs. In the short term, Ecstasy causes chemical changes in the brain that lead to severe depression and memory problems. Long-term use of Ecstasy could lead to permanent brain damage, and users are also at high risk of heart or kidney failure.
The survey also uncovered some disturbing but important findings that some parents, knowingly or unknowingly, may be contributing to their kids' alcohol use.
Among seventh graders, 72 percent reported that their parents strongly disapprove of underage drinking. But that rate dropped to 52 percent among seniors. It's possible that many parents simply didn't voice their disapproval of such behavior - or their kids just don't want to hear it.
The survey found that parental disapproval has an effect on whether kids drink. Only 20 percent of students who said their parents disapprove of teen alcohol use reported drinking in the past month, compared with 60 percent of their peers who reported their parents approved of teen alcohol use.
Again, it's hard to believe that any parents would approve of teen alcohol use, but their silence on the issue may be perceived as approval. The message is clear: Parents who voice opposition to underage drinking have an effect on their kids' behavior.
That is important information for parents who are the first line of defense in preventing their kids from using drugs and alcohol.
Ty Meighan is chief of the Scripps Howard Austin Bureau and can be reached at 512-334-6640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.