In October of 2021, Eliot 7 & 8th graders and all Morgan students took a survey created by PIC that looked at attitudes and behaviors around substance use and mental health. PIC has been administering this type of survey of students in collaboration with Clinton Schools since 2005, tracking the various trends around alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, opioid and other drug use. The data is collected every two years under a grant that PIC currently has to fund substance abuse prevention programs from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the federal government.
When the data is collected and formatted to be better understood (by our evaluator, Dr. Marc Goldstein), PIC members (including youth) meet several times to analyze the story behind the numbers. The story told by the survey responses guides PIC in determining what to focus its energy on in the upcoming year. Looking at how trends of use change, how students perceive harm of use of various substances, peer influence and parent disapproval, PIC designs campaigns and informational sessions and materials accordingly.
Here are some of the key take-aways from the 2021 Survey and the story it told:
- Covid impacted Clinton students in a significant and negative way, similar to what was reported on state and national news casts.
- Clinton students, particularly girls, reported increases in depression and anxiety and even suicidal ideation from our last survey in 2019.
- Mental health is directly tied to substance use. As mental health declines, students turn to substances to self-medicate. This in turn tends to worsen mental health and it is a negative cycle.
- Use of alcohol increased significantly amongst our oldest students. Students state that when they were home alone during quarantine, the isolation and boredom led to them accessing alcohol in their own homes. The habits formed during quarantine did not change as the students returned to school- drinking continued.
- Students tell us that access to alcohol, vaping products, and marijuana is easy. They know which stores sell without asking for ID, and they know older students or even adults willing to provide all of these to them.
- Student athletes reported more use of alcohol and marijuana than their non-athletic classmates. Some respondents explained that younger students want to fit in and be accepted by their older teammates, so may be pressured to use. Accordingly, if the older students have access to substances they may pass these products to their younger teammates as well.
- With marijuana now legal in CT for adult consumption, the perception of harm of using marijuana is at an all-time low. Access to all products- leaves, edibles, wax concentrates- has increased and will continue to as retail stores open in state.
- Young people are consuming a much more potent version of marijuana than existed in the 70s and 80s. The products of today have high levels of THC, the component that causes the “high”. This can be very dangerous to the under-developed brain and has led to some situations in which the young person has died.
- Vaping seems to be plateauing somewhat. Educational campaigns on the harms of vaping to the young brain and body are preventing the larger numbers of users.
- Clinton’s middle schoolers are using all substances this year at higher levels than they have in the last 6. This may be attributed somewhat to Covid, but is certainly a phenomenon worth looking into.
- Another interesting fact that was discovered through the data this year was that students who work outside the home are more likely to use substances than their same-age peers who do not work. This may be due to sharing time with older employees as well as increased stress put on their time.
So what do we do now?
We need all of our community partners to support our youth as they navigate their developmental years. Even if you don’t have daily interaction with teens, you can make a difference. Here are some examples of ways our partnerships within Clinton can affect the decisions teens make:
- Parents can learn about the harmful effects of today’s marijuana, how it’s different from that in the 70’s and 80’s; how vaping is so dangerous; the effects of teen drinking; the significant danger of opioids and the new and deadly presence of fentanyl; and so much more.
- Parents can have open and honest conversations with their children about drugs and alcohol. Set expectations around use and stick firm to family rules.
- Parents and other adults can role model positive stress management and family celebrations. Consider family gatherings without alcohol, as the more youth are around use the more “normalized” it becomes.
- Police will enforce local laws and support efforts to reduce youth access to drugs and alcohol. DARE classes are taught at Eliot and the School Resource Officer develops positive relationships with students. There is also an annual police-youth group that offers education, community service and fun activities.
- Schools support and encourage learning about harmful effects and promote drug-free activities and athletics. Leadership opportunities for youth within schools are plentiful and are key protective factors!
- Businesses hire our youth and provide them with new learning opportunities.
- Civic groups can provide positive, drug free experiences for youth. Youth can volunteer to help out at events and activities and provide some great human energy! These relationships are great protective factors!
- Our town government proactively votes to prohibit marijuana sales in Clinton. This was a tremendous protective action on their part. Research shows that communities that sell retail cannabis have higher youth use rates of cannabis.
- Churches and clergy can support positive youth development and clear family communication. Drug free family and youth activities provide fun and engagement without the need for substances.
- Extended family members can discuss substance use with young people. Sometimes teens are more comfortable talking with adults that are not their parents about these topics.
- If you see a store sell alcohol, vape products or tobacco to youth, tell someone! Say something. If a business is not carding youth, they are not supporting a healthy community.
- You can join PIC and REACT in our informational campaigns, events and activities. Just email Shelby at email@example.com.