Study: Summit kids most impacted by drugs
April 14, 2009
Over this month’s spring break, Summit County parents should keep in mind that their children may be more at risk for drug abuse than any of their Utah peers.
According to a study by the Utah Criminal Justice Center, which is a nonpartisan research group at the University of Utah, teens in Summit County are much more likely to use drugs and alcohol than any other county in the state. The study results, based on 2007 surveys of students at three school districts in the county, are posted at http://trivergia.com/risk/Utah/.
"If I were a parent in Summit County and I saw that, I would be sitting down and talking with my kids about it," said Reg Garff, a juvenile justice specialist at the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
The study further indicates that societal norms and law enforcement in Summit County may be more tolerant of drug use than elsewhere in the state.
"This is the perception of the kids taking the survey, that laws and norms favor drug use. And it’s in every grade level from 6th through 12th," Garff explained.
Forty percent of teenagers surveyed in Summit County in 2007 believed it was OK to abuse drugs, Garff said.
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"Parents may be providing alcohol in an underage environment," he said. "They may be saying it’s OK to drink at home as long as they don’t go out and drive and drink."
The state sponsored polling of 6th-, 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders in each school district in Utah. In 2007, more students in Summit County claimed that they had used illegal drugs within 30 days of the questionnaires than in any other county in the state.
The survey indicated parents should begin preventing their kids from drinking and experimenting with drugs before grade 8.
"If we want to do a true prevention program, and we’re seeing an onset of alcohol problems in the 8th grade, we have to start before then," Garff said.
The study shows 13- and 14-year-olds are particularly vulnerable as they gain the freedom offered by high school. Nearly two-thirds of students surveyed in Summit County are likely to use drugs and alcohol by grade 12, according to Garff.
"We were surprised when the numbers came out like they did," Garff said about kids in Summit County being most at risk of substance abuse. "It was unexpected. If you were to think about statewide, where would you think?"
Thirty percent more students in Summit County will use drugs at an early age than the average number statewide, the survey shows. Nearly 40 percent more students in Summit will have friends who use drugs.
"The report doesn’t tell us the why. It tells us, what is," Garff said.
Park City School Board President Kim Carson said police officers in schools in western Summit County deter students from using drugs.
But, she adds, parents must do more to combat substance abuse.
"I was — in the fall — at one of the high school PTSO meetings and they voiced a very big concern with parents’ attitudes and the, not support of student drinking, but their willingness to allow that to take place when they knew it was happening," Carson said. "Some parents think a little drink here and little drink there is no big deal, and I disagree with that attitude. Parents need to obey the law and help encourage their students not to drink."
Ample extracurricular activities in Park City also discourage kids from experimenting with drugs, she said.
"We feel like, if the students are engaged in their school work and they are engaged in extracurricular activities related to school, such as clubs and sports, that they will have less of a tendency to be involved in drinking and drugs," Carson said.
When a 17-year-old boy at North Summit High School died from alcohol poisoning a few years ago, a committee was formed in Coalville to help prevent substance abuse, North Summit School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen said.
"I’m not going to tell you that we don’t have problems, because I know we do," Carlsen said. "We’ve looked at those statistics hard and we’re realistic enough to know that there is something going on, and where there is smoke, there is more fire than what you know."
Updated Student Health and Risk Prevention, or SHARP surveys were conducted in schools in Kamas in the past month.
"Parents should be aware of what the usage is in the area and that there are a number of our children out there who are at least experimenting with drugs. They’re still the most influential person in their children’s lives," South Summit School District Superintendent Barry Walker said. "In our area, we have had parents who have come to us with concerns. They had children who got involved with drugs and, of course, those parents said, ‘We didn’t realize how serious the problem was until our own children were involved.’"