Pubdate: Tue, 15 Mar 2005
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2005 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Shawn Regan
Bookmark: (Youth)


HAVERHILL -- Some high school students who took a survey that shows an 
increase in drug use by teenagers don't believe it is accurate. They say 
the annual survey is not taken seriously by their peers, who often fail to 
answer questions accurately.

But officials in charge of the study say the results are reliable and 
consistent with the previous year's findings.

The School Committee formed a task force last month to consider random or 
suspicion-based drug testing at the high school.

"Kids don't tell the truth on the survey," said Haverhill High junior 
Sandor Cabrera, 16. "Kids in school make fun of it. Everyone is like 'why 
are they asking this stuff? It's none of their business.' "

Ivan Veras, 16, also a junior, said that although he told the truth on the 
survey, many of his friends told him they lied or exaggerated. Christine 
Fitzpatrick, 18, student council president and a captain of the swim team, 
was one of the first students to cast doubt on the survey. "I don't believe 
the survey is reliable," she said in opposition to drug testing. "We get a 
21/2 page survey at 7 in the morning with questions like 'Have you ever 
shot up heroin or smoked crack?' The majority of kids think it's funny, lie 
on it and don't take it seriously."

The survey was administered last May to high schoolers and seventh-graders. 
The results, which were released last week, show the number of students 
using hard drugs such as LSD, cocaine and heroin is increasing. It also 
shows they are using dangerous aerosols such as chemicals found in the 
garage and under the kitchen sink and common household medicines.

The survey found that alcohol and marijuana are the most common substances 
used by students, but that the percentage of students who drank alcohol or 
smoked marijuana in their lives or in the month prior to the survey has 
decreased slightly last year compared to 2003. Fighting and vandalism also 
decreased slightly, but cigarette smoking and the percentage of students 
who reported they rode in a motor vehicle with someone drinking alcohol 
increased. Dr. Patricia B. Cronin of the North Essex Prevention Coalition 
administered the survey and presented the results last week to the School 
Committee. She said the survey is edited for accuracy and that this year's 
results are consistent with last year's. She said educators scrutinize each 
survey, tossing out those on which a student gives multiple answers, uses 
obscenities or makes inappropriate drawings.

"From year to year we have never seen a dramatic swing in any category," 
she said. "You'd have to have the same number of kids making up answers 
every year and lying every year. We know what to look for to get a reliable 
result." Cronin characterized the findings as conservative because the kids 
who declined to take the survey or who were not in school when it was given 
are those who are the most likely to be engaging in negative behaviors, she 
said. About 63 percent of the student body completed a survey, she said. It 
has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent, she said.

Other officials have suggested some students may be just as likely to under 
report bad behavior as to over report it.

Not every student believes their peers lie on the survey. "I think most 
kids tell the truth because they don't care," said sophomore Amanda Given, 
16. "The survey is anonymous. Most kids don't think it's anyone else's 
business what they do anyway, so why should they lie?" She also thinks the 
survey has its merits.

"I think it can be helpful because it can show what kids are trying drugs 
and what kinds of drugs they are using, she said.

Sophomore Andrea Girard, 15, isn't sure the survey is accurate, but she 
believes many of the findings, including that more teenagers are using 
inhalants and medicines to get high.

"They are cheaper and more easier to get, so that makes sense," she said 
when told the survey reported more students using those substances. "Some 
kids lie but I think most of us tell the truth," she added. "But I don't 
see how are they going to know what kids are lying from what kids are 
telling the truth."

The survey asks about alcohol, illegal drugs and tobacco use, peer 
influence, perceived parental response to use, traffic safety behaviors, 
violence including fighting and vandalism, gambling, harassment and date 
violence. School officials are putting the survey into a brochure that soon 
will be mailed to parents.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth