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Survey: Student alcohol, drug use higher than state average

The number of Big Island middle and high school students who report using drugs and alcohol is higher than state averages, according to new statistics from the 2017 Hawaii Youth Risk Behaviors Hawaii School Health Survey.

According to the state Department of Education, more than 16,300 public middle and high school students across the state participated in the survey, a joint project of the DOE, state Department of Health and the University of Hawaii.

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The anonymous survey, which is administered every other year, looks at a number of health-risk behaviors including mental health, injuries and violence, sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use and physical activity.

DOH school health coordinator Jennifer Ryan said that information collected through the surveys in Hawaii can be compared to students across the nation, which is “really helpful for us to gauge areas that we’re doing well and areas that need improvement.”

The survey data can be used for a lot of different purposes, such as developing legislation, she said.

“It’s sometimes helpful to have local data to identify priorities where we’re doing well and where students might need some additional support.”

On the Big Island, Ryan said there were 1,517 surveys taken at 10 high schools, while there were 1,605 participants at 13 middle schools.

Among the high school survey results:

• 58.7 percent of Hawaii County high school students surveyed said they had ever drank alcohol, compared to the statewide rate of 49 percent and the 2015 rate of 58 percent;

• 32.1 percent had at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days (24.5 percent statewide) and 16.3 percent reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, (12.6 percent statewide);

• 41.6 percent had ever used marijuana (31.1 percent statewide) and 24.1 percent used marijuana in the past 30 days (18.1 percent statewide);

• 7.5 percent had used any form of cocaine (7.1 percent statewide), 7.2 percent had used ecstasy (6 percent statewide), 10.9 percent had used hallucinogenic drugs (7.6 percent statewide), 6 percent said they had used heroin (4.5 percent statewide), 5.7 percent used methamphetamines (4.8 percent statewide), 8.7 percent had used synthetic marijuana (6.3 percent statewide) and 3.5 percent have used a needle to inject any illegal drug (2.8 percent statewide).

At the middle school level in Hawaii County:

• 31.2 percent admitted to ever drinking alcohol, compared to 29.5 percent in 2015 (23.5 percent statewide);

• 17.6 percent said they had used marijuana, compared to 14 percent two years prior (11.9 percent statewide); and

• 4 percent had used any form of cocaine (3.3 percent statewide), 1.8 percent used Ecstasy (1.5 percent statewide), 2.6 percent had used methamphetamines 2.1 percent statewide), and 8 percent had ever used a needle to inject illegal drugs (7.1 percent statewide).

The number of Big Island high school students who have ever tried cigarettes is down to 25.8 percent from 27.2 percent in 2015. Just 1.1 percent reported smoking cigarettes daily.

However, 49.6 percent of those surveyed on the Big Island reported ever using an electronic vapor product, compared to 42.3 percent statewide.

The number of Big Island middle school students who had ever tried cigarettes remained nearly steady at 16.7 percent, however, 35.8 percent of students surveyed said they had ever used an electronic vapor product, compared to 28.4 percent in 2015 (27 percent statewide), and 23 percent said they had used such a product in the past 30 days, compared to 15.7 percent two years prior and statewide.

Chad Keone Farias, complex area superintendent for both the Hilo-Waiakea and Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa complex areas, said he has been monitoring the data for “quite some time,” and long before he was superintendent.

“We’ve done a lot of work to try and lay the foundation within our schools and our community in hopes that the work that we do will decrease the data, or increase the positive responses from our children,” he said.

As far as trends in the data, Farias said “we’ve seen the data kind of go up and down,” with some “very positive data points at times,” and some negative.

The use of electronic cigarettes and vaping has been a concern, he said, but school officials have been “trying to chip away at it.”

Farias spoke of two grants, the efforts of which are helping address drug and alcohol use.

One from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association was awarded to the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area as well as two other complex areas on Oahu.

Farias said that grant funds collaborations between multiple agencies, including the DOH Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division, and funded youth mental health first aid training. The grant also allowed for the hiring of a district education specialist and social workers to engage families and work with schools and the community.

They are working collectively “reinforcing in the home and the community what we’re teaching in school and vice versa,” he said.

A School Climate Transformation grant also looks at how to create a positive environment on campuses and focuses on “school-wide positive behavior intervention and supports,” he said. The grant “is trying to educate us in how do we find that balance” between correcting behaviors in a supportive way that is more rehabilitative than punitive.

“It’s 100 pounds of effort to get an ounce of change,” Farias said. “It’s so much effort to make the little changes that we’re making. All of it concerns me, (which is) why we put much effort into it. My belief is we need to attack this as a community, as an entire island, as an entire state and entire nation.”

Among other findings, the surveys also found that statewide, fewer middle school students reported that they have been bullied at school and fewer students reported being cyberbullied or cyberbullying someone else, although high school numbers remained relatively flat compared to 2015 numbers.

In Hawaii County, 48 percent of the middle school students surveyed said they were bullied on school property, which is down from 52.2 percent in 2015 but above the state average of 40 percent, while 24.3 percent reported being electronically bullied (22.6 percent statewide) and 13 percent said they had electronically bullied someone else (10.9 percent statewide).

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At the high school level, 19.5 percent of the Big Island students surveyed said they had been in a physical fight in the past year (16.8 percent statewide), 15. 1 percent said they had been electronically bullied in the past 12 months (14.6 percent statewide) and 21.3 percent were bullied on school property in the same time frame (18.4 percent statewide).

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.