Stanly school board hears results of student drug use survey

Substance use among students was the focus of a study presented to the Stanly County School Board Tuesday evening.

Representatives from the Center for Prevention Services in Charlotte performed a survey in March of Stanly students to gauge both accessibility and use of e-cigarettes, vaping, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.

Students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 were surveyed. It was completed in mid-March as the schools were closing in the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Andrew Reynolds of CPS made the presentation via Google Meet to the school board along with CPS Executive Director Angela Allan, Neetu Verma, program director of Partnership for Success, and Dr. Keri Reeves, a consultant from Common Good Data Consulting.

Of 1,226 students from 11 Stanly schools surveyed, 70.8 percent were white, 18.1 percent Black, 11.4 percent latino and 4.9 percent Asian. Eighth graders made up the largest group of respondents at 37.2 percent, with sixth grade at 33.5 percent and 25.1 percent of 10th graders.

Only 4.3 percent of seniors participated, which Reynolds said will impact the numbers with a slight undercount in substance abuse behaviors. He added CPS did some statistical corrections to have better estimates.

“A lot of the trends are going to be similar,” Reynolds said.

Overall, the rates for use of cigarettes, alcohol, pain pills without a prescription, marijuana and e-cigarettes were lower than Mecklenburg County as well as state and national averages.

Of the students responding, 15.7 percent have used e-cigarettes, 13.4 percent have drank alcohol, 7.1 have used marijuana, 4.8 percent have used prescription drugs and 1.5 percent have smoked cigarettes.

When surveyed about using in the past 30 days, alcohol use increases from 16 to 18 years old by 10 to nearly 25 percent. Prescription drugs are used as early as 11 years old at just below 10 percent. Youth in the survey as young as 13 were using e-cigarettes at approximately 7.5 percent.

Reynolds said intervention in high school was important, but so was prevention programs among younger students.

The primary substance used by youth, according to the survey, is e-cigarettes, accounting for 10.9 percent of youth surveyed. He said the finding is an important indicator “since there has been so much work on combustion cigarettes” over the last 30 or 40 years.

Male youth preferred to drink beer while female youth were more likely to drink liquor or mixed drinks. However, in the survey, 11.2 percent of female students had used alcohol in the last 30 days compared to 8.4 percent of males. Males had used more e-cigarettes than females (12.2 to 9.6 percent).

Access also “plays a big role,” Reynolds said, presenting a slide regarding the percentages of students who labeled a certain drug as fairly easy or very easy to get. E-cigarettes topped the list for high schoolers at 43.3 percent, with alcohol second at 38.7 and marijuana at 36.7 percent. Alcohol was the most accessible for middle schoolers at 17.9 percent, with e-cigarettes at 15.9 percent.

“Keeping on top of that and making that a core part of our prevention efforts is an important factor,” Reynolds said.

When asked by Board member Glenda Gibson what does SCS do with the information, Allen said the data can help determine what programs are needed. She added it “seems pretty obvious we need to be talking to students about vaping.”

The numbers will help drive decisions on the prevention programming in the schools, Allen said.

Allen said data reports on the survey should be made available on the CPS website so other Stanly organizations “can also use this data to drive their decisions on prevention programming.”

Verma said 30 percent of those using drugs are getting them at concerts or other community events, according to the 30-day usage numbers in the survey.

Reynolds said there has been a shift in the past 20 to 30 years to get ahead of the curve by not having to think about treating users in a center but have conversations with young students in middle school before they use. He added many of the numbers are lower than years ago because of prevention programs.

Board member Anthony Graves asked about the release of the information, which Allen said they could not do without the board’s permission. She said public release of the data report on the site, not the data itself, allows other organizations to determine where its focus needs to be for prevention.

SCS Director of Student Services Beverly Pennington said SCS had been more focused on high schools in terms of drug abuse, but based on the survey “prevention efforts need to start earlier.”

Board member Patty Crump asked if the survey could be done again for seniors, since many take just two courses a day or are traveling between schools.

Pennington said SCS was aware of the low numbers, but with the circumstance of the schools leading up to closure due to COVID-19 “we simply ran out of time.”

Board member Ryan McIntyre asked about the T-21 law moving the minimum age to buy tobacco up to 21 and its effect on the numbers. Reynolds said the next round of surveys in two years would indicate the effect.