Snohomish County survey indicates that students less likely to binge drink and smoke cigarettes

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Dr. Gary Goldbaum
Dr. Gary Goldbaum

A Washington State Department of Health survey indicates that students are less likely to binge drink and smoke cigarettes and that overall drug use is down. But the survey also indicated that heroin and cocaine use was up for certain age groups.

In the first of four data releases from the 2014 Healthy Youth Survey, the Washington State Department of Health focused on results surrounding youth substance abuse. All 14 school districts in Snohomish County participated in the surveys distributed last October, adding up to 11,852 sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders whose answers shed some light around the health of the County’s youth.

The Healthy Youth Survey is completed every two years and asks a variety of questions about substance use, safety behaviors, diet, physical and mental well-being, and school atmosphere. Analyzing the trends since 2008 shows some promising improvements, particularly when it comes to binge drinking and smoking traditional cigarettes. Unfortunately, the data also highlights a number of health concerns with increased use of e-cigarettes, heroin and opioids, and marijuana.

“Having a tool like this that reaches such a large number of youth in our county and asks them questions that are on a lot of our minds is incredibly useful,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director for the Snohomish Health District.

Highlights of the data for Snohomish County include:

  • Students are making safer choices when it comes to alcohol. Not only are 8th, 10th, and 12th graders less likely to report binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a row) within the last two weeks, but they are 50 percent less likely to have consumed alcohol at all in the last month when compared to data from 2008. High school seniors also showed a 25 percent drop since 2008 for those who reported driving a car after they had been drinking.
  • Overall drug use down, heroin and cocaine use up for sophomores and seniors. The seniors were more likely to have reported ever trying heroin than those in the rest of the state (5.7 percent compared to 3.2 percent), with cocaine use showing the same variance. Despite these increases, the county has still shown considerable improvements in youth drug use in the last six years, with half as many 10th and 12th graders reported using any illegal drugs (excluding marijuana) in the last 30 days.
  • Legalization appears to have little impact on marijuana use. Students were asked how marijuana was consumed (e.g., smoked, ate, vaporized), and where it was obtained. Since becoming legal in the state, no significant changes have occurred in students using marijuana more frequently. In fact, 8th and 10th graders reported less current use than pre-legalization. The only change was that middle school and high school students are less likely to say someone using marijuana at their age is “very wrong,” a trend that pre-dates legalization.
  • New questions asked about e-cigarette use. As reported by Governor Jay  Inslee in February, more students were found to be using e-cigarettes or vaping devices compared to traditional cigarettes. This trend is most alarming in 8th graders in the County, where 1 out of 11 said they used e-cigarettes compared to just 3.1 percent who smoke traditional cigarettes.

“This data, and the fact that it represents so many youth in our county, reconfirms that the priorities we set out to tackle are the right ones,” said Dr. Goldbaum. “We hope that a concerted effort by the Health District and our local partners on issues like vaping and drug take back programs will allow us to make a considerable impact before the next round of surveys in 2016.”

The Snohomish Health District has prepared four facts sheets on these topics, which can be found by visiting: https://www.snohd.org/Records-Reports/Data-Reports.

The Department of Health will be releasing data for a new topic each month through June. Data on schools and community environment with be released mid-April; depression and suicide in May; and physical activity, obesity, healthy eating and screen time released in June.

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