Pubdate: Wed, 24 Jan 2007
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Christina Denardo, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Youth)


Drug use is down in Palm Beach County public schools,  but more high
school students are consuming alcohol and  as many as 20 percent
report binge drinking, according  to a 2006 state report on youth
substance abuse.

The Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, which reports  teenage drug
use every two years, shows that despite a  decrease in drinking among
middle schoolers, Palm Beach  County has a higher rate of alcohol use
and binge  drinking than the state average.

That's because of a increase from 40 percent in 2000 to  46.3 percent
last year - and nearly 25 percent rise in  binge drinking - of high
school students.

About 60 percent of middle and high school students in  Palm Beach
County report drinking alcohol at least  once, with 35 percent saying
they've consumed alcohol  within the month. About 14 percent say they
have been  drunk at school.

"I'm not surprised," said Kim Williams, assistant  director of the
district's prevention center. "Alcohol  is the most widely used drug,
and it is a drug, in the  United States. Why would it be any different
in Palm  Beach County?"

Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine, mushrooms and  methamphetamines
remained less than 1 percent.

While recent use of marijuana use has declined slightly  to 12.2
percent this year, the percentage of students  who have tried it at
least once increased to 25  percent, a reflection of the state average.

Cigarette use declined once again to 10 percent, a 50  percent decline
from 2000.

In an effort to stem substance abuse, the district has  developed
several programs aimed at helping students  make better choices in all
aspects of life, as well as  offering alternatives to suspension for
students who  have been caught drinking or doing drugs on campus.
School-based teams, which include teachers and guidance  counselors,
also refer students to counseling if they  see a substance abuse problems.

Several high schools also have drug counselors for easy  access by
students. Next year, the district will pilot  a new program for
freshman to decrease alcohol use.

The current efforts have made an impact on middle  school drinking,
which declined from 25.6 in 2000 to  19.8 this year, Williams said.

Still, the report indicates that students in Palm Beach  County have
more risk factors for substance abuse than  students across the state,
such as having a friend with  a drug problem, mobility, criminal
history within the  family and poor academic performance.

When many of these students get to high school, alcohol  use explodes.
Nearly 10 percent of middle schoolers and  25 percent of high
schoolers say they have binged on  alcohol within the past two weeks,
a higher rate  compared with the state average of 23 percent.

Carol Owsiany, who oversees the Florida Division of  Alcoholic
Beverages and Tobacco in Palm Beach and  Broward counties, blames the
high use on parents who  allow their children to drink at home. In
some cases,  parents have thrown house parties that have attracted
dozens of teenagers.

In August, a house party thrown by a Seminole High  student turned
deadly when two young men were shot and  killed. Police also have
investigated sexual assaults  and stabbings during house parties,
Owsiany said.

Oswiany's agency also conducts undercover stings to  catch retailers
and bars that sell alcohol to minors.  But the real problem Owsiany
said is at home, where  most students get the alcohol.

"I just don't think they understand the dangers," she  said.
"Unfortunately, it's an accepted norm like a rite  of passage and
parents don't take it as seriously as  they should."
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