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SURVEY: DRUG USE DOWN ALCOHOL POPULAR; POT COMES NEXT, OFFICIALS SAY.

Byline: Susan Abram Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Drug use and alcohol consumption among middle and high school students in the Santa Clarita Valley declined sharply in 2002 compared with three years earlier, according to results of a survey released Wednesday.

But some area health professionals questioned the survey's validity, based on the sampling methods used.

The Healthy Kids Survey, usually conducted every two years on seventh-, ninth-, and 11th-graders was administered throughout the William S. Hart Union High School District in November 2002. Students who took the survey must have had parent permission first, but were not required to bring back their permission slips, which might account for the sharp declines, area health professionals said.

Among the survey's findings for seventh-graders:

Ten percent of seventh-graders tried alcohol at least once in 2002, compared with nearly 50 percent in 1999.

Roughly 8 percent of seventh-graders tried inhalants in 2002, compared with a little over 10 percent in 1999. Less than 5 percent tried marijuana in 2002, compared with almost 10 percent in 1999.

The same declining trend can be seen among ninth- and 11th-graders, though percentages of drug and alcohol use are higher as teens get older, according to the survey.

The survey is distributed by WestEd, an outside, nonprofit research agency contracted by the State Board of Education. The survey tests about 70 percent of the students in each grade. Results are used to provide schools with information about risky behavior on campus, as well as the community's strengths and weaknesses, as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

School officials and police say the declines reflect more community services geared toward drug prevention and more vigilance on school campuses. But the survey doesn't include questions about abuse of prescription drugs, a growing problem.

``The schools are being very proactive with drug-sniffing dogs and deputies around,'' said Sgt. Don Wyman of the Santa Clarita sheriff's station's COBRA unit. ``We get one or two cases a week regarding marijuana at school and also tobacco products, such as cigarettes and lighters.''

But Wyman said the drugs of choice are still methamphetamines, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

``The new one that's on the rise is DMX, the cough medicine, and the drug of choice is methamphetamines, but they're not bringing it to school,'' Wyman said.

Richard Freifeld, director of student services for the William S. Hart Union High School District, said he believes the declines in drug and alcohol use are due to the proliferation of community programs, such as the Blue Ribbon Task Force. Schools also are reaching out to nonprofit agencies to organize support groups and outreach programs.

``There are programs that have been developed that have really flourished in the Santa Clarita Valley,'' he said. ``I think the good thing is there are a lot of support programs for the youths of Santa Clarita that provide counseling.''

Wade Trimmer, the executive director for the SCV Youth Project, said though he agrees there are some decreases, the Healthy Kids Survey is inconsistent with what his agency sees. The students who typically bring back the permission slips to take the survey are likely those who do not use drugs.

``I would say that it's true, in the last couple of years, the school district has been more proactive,'' Trimmer said. ``But what Healthy Kids doesn't show is a huge increase in prescription drug use in the valley. It's rampant. These kids are popping pills like crazy, like Vicodin and Prozac. The thing about prescription drugs is they are so easy to hide. You can take it to school with you.''

Trimmer also said alcohol is still the top drug used. The SCV Youth Project runs a dozen support groups on four local campuses, Trimmer said.

``What's killing kids out here is alcohol. Marijuana use is the next thing, and more kids are experimenting with crystal meth,'' Trimmer said. ``Young girls especially are using prescription drugs because of the way they are packaged. It's sort of higher-class.''

Susan Abram, (661) 257-5257

susan.abram(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jan 29, 2004
Words:675
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