Fewer Kentucky Students Abusing Drugs, but Marijuana And Meth Declines Are Less Sharp

Drug use is declining among Kentucky students, but marijuana and methamphetamine usage isn't declining as much as prescription pills and other abused drugs, a new study says.

The 2012 Kentucky Incentives for Prevention (KIP) School Survey shows multi-year declines in the following areas surveyed: alcohol, tobacco, inhalants, cocaine, prescription drug, speed, tranquilizers, ecstasy, gambling.

That’s true of marijuana and methamphetamine too over the past several years, but when you consider more recent years it’s not happening as consistently as the other drugs.

For example, 30 percent of 12th grade students reported having used marijuana in 2012, the same as in 2010. Other measures in the study show students have not been swayed away from marijuana as much as some other drugs.

The percentage of students who think using marijuana is wrong has slowly declined the past five years (in 2006, 69.5 percent said it was wrong or very wrong to use pot; in 2012 it was 60.1 percent), with older students showing more leniency toward the drug, according to the study.

“Public attitudes across the board have loosened on marijuana, or lessened. That makes it difficult when there are so many other messages out they that are contrary to ours,” says Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

Ingram points to the national debate on medical marijuana use as one example of the potential social impact.

In 2006, 2 percent of students reported having used methamphetamine at least once in their lives.  Now, that’s been cut in half.  But another measure in the report shows students in 12th grade reported a higher rate of having used meth in the past year since the last biennium report.

Still, Ingram says Kentucky has made great gains and he attributes that to individual efforts like Operation Unite in the state’s 5th congressional district, which helps to educate students and rid communities of illegal drugs.

“There’s not been one concerted effort. It’s just been an effort on a lot of people’s parts to get more information out there to increase that perception of risk that just didn’t exist among young people,” he says.

A big takeaway is the improvements in prescription drug abuse, Ingram says. The survey shows 15 percent of 12th grade students reported misusing prescription drugs in 2008. Now, it's at 9 percent.

For 10th graders, the percentage decreased from 14 to 7.6 percent during the same time. Off-label use among younger students declined as well.

Kentucky officials have also attributed the declines to tougher regulations, and  the state's prescription drug monitoring program called KASPER.

Familiar trends also pop up in the 2012 report, such as the older you are (in school) the more likely you are to report having used drugs and alcohol.

Lastly, the study points out new data, including mental health. Fourteen percent of students felt “nervous” in the month the survey was taken, 12 percent “hopeless” and 11.5 percent “depressed.”

More than 120,000 Kentucky students participated in the survey. 

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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