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(SACRAMENTO) -- Attorney General Bill Lockyer today released the preliminary findings of the Eighth Biennial California Student Survey showing overall drug and alcohol use by California students has declined for the first time in a decade, but use of heroin by 11th graders increased. The survey also shows the level of excessive alcohol and drug use by heavy users remains unchanged.
Lockyer released the results with representatives from the Department of Education, Department of Health Services and Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, which co-sponsor the survey.
"We can be encouraged by the first substantial decline in nearly a decade for overall alcohol and drug use reported by California's students," Lockyer said. "Our prevention strategies appear to be reaching young people who are casual users. However, the number of students who report using drugs or alcohol on a daily or weekly basis remains unacceptably high. We need to devote more attention to these students before their problems escalate and threaten their future."
The preliminary findings of the 8th biennial California Student Survey measured student substance use in the 1999-2000 school year by surveying 12,777 students in grades 7, 9 and 11.
The survey shows 20% of 7th, 26% of 9th and 39% of 11th graders reported using an illicit drug at least once in the past six months. These percentages reveal a significant shift downward since 1997-98 for all three grades. Diminished use of marijuana and inhalants is largely responsible for the decline.
The survey results also indicate that young people need more support to help them quit substance use. Only 14% of both 9th and 11th graders thought it "very likely" that a student would find help at school for substance use. One third or more thought the most likely school response would be expulsion.
The largest declines were found in the use of alcohol. Alcohol consumption by students has fallen for the first time in 15 years, although it still remains high. One third (35%) of 7th graders, one-half (52%) of 9th graders and two-thirds (66%) of 11th graders reported drinking alcohol in the past six months. These levels are down at least 10 points for all grades in virtually every beverage category (beer, wine, liquor). Even with the current decline, however, alcohol remains the most popular substance used by students.
Overall, marijuana use among 9th and 11th grade students has decreased substantially after a large increase in its use during the first half of the decade, a trend peaking in 1995 before leveling off in 1997.
The declines are most pronounced for the past six-months, with marijuana use by 9th graders dropping 12.5 percentage points (from 32.5% in 1997-98 to 20% in 1999-2000); and 7 percentage points by 11th graders (from 42% in 1997-98 to 35% in 1999-2000).
The one exception in the overall downward trend in the use of illicit drugs by 11th graders was their use of heroin, which increased (from 1.7% in 1997-98 to 5.2% in 1999-2000) during the previous six months, but remained rare among the other grades.
While overall substance use was down, the level of substance abuse by students categorized as heavy users (daily or weekly) has remained about the same as in 1997-98, and at roughly similar levels since the student survey began monitoring heavy use in 1991. The sharp declines in overall alcohol use by all students surveyed, for example, were not accompanied by similar declines in the frequent consumption of alcohol by heavy users. While the overall consumption of alcohol and other drugs by 11th graders, for example, fell 9.2 percentage points (from 76.9% in 1997-98 to 67.7% in 1999-2000), the level of 11th graders who are heavy users increased 3.6 percentage points (from 33.9% in 97-98 to 37.6% in 99-00).
Lockyer said the survey suggests there is a need for continued prevention efforts and attention to helping students with drug and alcohol problems. He pointed to several prevention programs administered by the Department of Justice, including $20 million to fund 65 School Community Policing Partnership Grants, in partnership with the Department of Education, which are used by schools and their communities to reduce alcohol and drug offenses and other crime and violence at school; and a variety of public education materials and activities.
The Attorney General also called on parents, schools and community leaders to discuss the dangers of alcohol and drug use with young people. The Attorney General's homepage and Stop Drugs website provide numerous resources and information for parents and others on drug use, prevention and enforcement. Other key findings from the survey include:
1. After a decade of stability, the proportion of students abstaining from alcohol or other drug use rose substantially in all three grade levels surveyed, increasing for 7th graders from 47.1% in 97-98 to 60.9% in 99-00, for 9th graders from 29% in 97-98 to 46.2% in 99-00 and for 11th graders from 23% in 97-98 to 32% in 99-00.
2. Drinking and driving among 11th graders remained at about the same high level, 36% currently (from 38% in 97-98). Among 9th graders, this measure remained around 22%.
3. Twenty-seven percent of 11th graders reported attending school at least once while "high" on alcohol or another drug, usually marijuana, down moderately from 31% in 97-98. Thirteen percent of 9th graders reported attended school while high, down from 20 percent in 97-98.
4. Students' perceptions that the frequent use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs was extremely harmful were up markedly — returning to or exceeding rates reported in the early 1990s, reversing the 1997 results that indicated a weakening in perceived harm.
5. Alcohol, tobacco and other drug use in California appears to be declining more significantly than national trends. Up to 1997, the California Student Survey results were consistent with national rates, which also rose during the 1990s, but the national results for 1999 have reached a plateau or showed only a moderate decline compared to California's.