High school seniors in North Idaho binge drink more than seniors in other areas of the state, according to survey results released last week by the State Department of Education.
Statewide, about a third of high school seniors reported binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks at a time – at some time during the month before taking the survey. But in North Idaho nearly 43 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking.
The 2004 Idaho Substance Use and School Climate Survey also included statistics about the perceived availability of drugs and the number of students driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
More than 70 percent of students surveyed said it would be fairly easy or very easy to get marijuana. About 17 percent of Idaho’s high school seniors reported they had driven under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the previous month.
As for school climate, between 80 percent and 88 percent of students in the grades surveyed – 6, 8, 10 and 12 – said they felt safe at school and felt “respected and cared for by their teachers.”
More than 15,000 students statewide participated in the survey, including nearly 2,900 students from the Idaho Panhandle. Participation for school districts was optional.
Janet Feiler, a spokeswoman with the Coeur d’Alene School District, said the results were mixed.
“I think it was a good news/bad news kind of report,” Feiler said. “But it’s valuable information.”
Feiler said the district was delighted with the number of students who reported feeling safe and cared for and that a lower percentage of kids were using tobacco and marijuana when compared against statewide results.
“But, unfortunately, our alcohol use is higher than the state average in grades 8, 10 and 12,” she said. “It concerns us that we have a higher percentage than the state who think their parents would approve of them using alcohol and their parents would approve of them being at a party where alcohol is available.”
Local districts said they focus on dangers of substance abuse in health classes and try to discourage drug use and drinking in a number of other ways.
Feiler said Coeur d’Alene has Idaho Drug Free Youth programs at its middle and high schools. Members agree to voluntary drug tests.
She said Coeur d’Alene High School tests athletes for drugs, and the schools have alcohol-free dances where students have to take breathalyzer tests to get inside.
Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said it’s encouraging that a lot of the risky behavior that’s surveyed continues to decline. The number of high school seniors who smoke dropped by 18.4 percentage points from 1996 to 2004, and the number of Idaho seniors who drink decreased by 10 percentage points over that same period.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done yet,” Keane said. “It’s a huge task and we’re fighting a lot of different sources from the outside influencing our students to do things that are not good for our students.”
Keane said teachers and administrators in the district went through training to help detect substance abuse among students, and they have drug dogs on campus on a regular basis.
Kootenai County Sheriff Capt. Ben Wolfinger said the number of students who reported drinking and driving seemed high, especially “since they’re not supposed to be drinking at all.”
The Sheriff’s Department arrested 15 juveniles on suspicion of driving under the influence in the past year, he said, with underage drinkers accounting for almost 6 percent of all DUI arrests in 2004.
In a press release, the State Department of Education said overall results show decreases in use of drugs and alcohol over the past 10 years.
“Influencing behaviors takes a sustained and consistent effort from the state and schools,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard said in the release.
In several areas surveyed – including tobacco use, drinking and drug use – Idaho’s results were significantly lower than the national average, according to the release.
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