Coeur d’Alene teens smoked more marijuana last year than they did in 2006, a contrast to a trend revealed in statistics released Monday in a federal survey about the drug and alcohol use among U.S. high school students.
In Spokane County, however, students’ marijuana use decreased, according to the Spokane County Regional Health District.
Of the Coeur d’Alene 12th-graders surveyed in 2008, nearly 23 percent had smoked pot within the past month – up 6 percentage points from the previous survey in 2006. Ninth-graders’ use also increased.
Of that younger group, “use only went up slightly in 2008, but I’m thinking we are going to see it go up again,” said Tammy Rubino, a spokeswoman for the Kootenai Alliance for Children and Families, which administers the survey every two years to ninth- and 12th-graders.
“Kids are seeing marijuana legalized for medical use in some states, and the impression is it’s not as dangerous as alcohol,” Rubino said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘It’s natural. It’s a plant.’ ”
During the same period, alcohol use dropped about 10 percentage points among 12th-graders and nearly 15 points for ninth graders, according to the survey.
A lot of data is out there about irreversible brain damage caused by underage drinking, Rubino said. “We’ve hit that pretty hard,” she added. But the message hasn’t been as consistent about marijuana.
Coeur d’Alene high school students also showed an uptick in prescription drug abuse from 2006 to 2008, in alignment with the national survey.
Federal authorities think teens are unaware of the dangers of the prescription medications – OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin – because they are medically approved.
Some of those prescription drugs are considered a gateway to heroin, which also increased according to the Coeur d’Alene survey, from 0.4 percent among 12th-graders in 2006 to 2.4 percent in 2008, according to the Coeur d’Alene survey.
Spokane County students in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades reported they didn’t smoke more marijuana in 2008 than the previous two years, but the survey shows a much bigger percentage are using the drug as they get older.
For example, 3.2 percent of sixth-graders had smoked pot in 2008 while nearly 43 percent of 12th-graders had used it, according to the survey.