Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use is trending downward among Erie County middle and high school students, although students report starting at an earlier age, according to the newly released 2009 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, conducted locally by the Mercyhurst College Civic Institute.
The Erie County results will be released Thursday, Oct. 7, during a luncheon at the Ambassador Banquet & Conference Center co-sponsored by the Civic Institute and the Erie County Office of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
According to the report, alcohol is the most used drug among students in Erie County, although usage has declined since the previous two surveys. In 2009, 46.1 percent of Erie County students reported drinking alcohol in their lifetime, down from 56 percent in 2005 and 2007, and lower than the state average of 49.3 percent.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) sponsors the biannual survey of 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students throughout the state to gauge the level of youth behaviors and attitudes relating to not only alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD), but also antisocial behaviors, family relationships, community attachment and school engagement. With the help of the Erie County Department of Health and the Drug and Alcohol Coalition of Erie County, Erie County participated in the survey with a valid sample for the first time in 2005 and again in 2007.
For the 2009 survey, 10 school districts participated with a sample of 5,160 students. Having completed three survey cycles with valid sample sizes, this represents the first period Erie County has secured data for trend analysis, according to Civic Institute Director Amy Eisert.
Use of tobacco, the second most commonly used drug among adolescents in Erie County, is also trending downward. The latest report shows 26.3 percent of students having ever used cigarettes, down slightly from 27 percent in 2007 and par with 26 percent in 2005, which is the same as the state average. A more accurate reading, Eisert indicated, is the “past 30-day use,” where 10.2 percent of students reported having used cigarettes, down from 12 percent in both 2005 and 2007, and below the state average of 11 percent.
Also declining among Erie County students is the use of marijuana, the third most commonly used drug. The survey shows 17.3 percent of students reported ever having used marijuana, down from 19 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2005, which is below the state average of 20 percent.
Another area of interest is the age when adolescents began using drugs and alcohol. Eisert said Erie County has been experiencing a decrease in age of onset, meaning students are reporting use at earlier ages. The Erie County respondents reported an average age of 12.6 for starting to smoke cigarettes, the corresponding state figure being 13; trying alcohol, age 12.7 (Erie), 13 (PA); and smoking marijuana, 13.8 (Erie), 14.1 (PA).
The report also took note of other antisocial behaviors and, new this year, victimization rates relating to bullying and harassment. All eight bullying behaviors measured, from name-calling to sexual harassment on the Internet, were higher in Erie County than in Pennsylvania.