Summit High School below state for pot and cigarette use, above on alcohol | SummitDaily.com

Summit High School below state for pot and cigarette use, above on alcohol

A recent report shows the Summit School District is making strides with marijuana use among high school students, dropping 7 percent – from about 43 to 36 percent – in the last four years. Summit High School also came in 2-percentage points below self-reported pot use across the rest of the state.

About four in five parents with kids in school and adults 21-to-35 years old in Summit County have tried marijuana at least once, and use among Summit Middle and High School students is similar to, or perhaps slightly lower than, statewide totals.

That's according to the merging of three studies examining area perceptions on drugs and their use from the past two years, with particular attention on marijuana. A new report combined the local Healthy Kids Colorado survey with one conducted by market research firm Corona Insights in partnership with the Summit School District, and added past state Department of Public Health (CDPHE) risk factor assessment data to produce the comparison.

Seventy-seven percent of the nearly 300 Summit parents polled by Corona said they'd used marijuana one or more times in their lives. The figures were even higher among the county's young adult group, with 87 percent reporting consumption, versus 50 percent across the state from the CDPHE study.

"We were a little bit surprised how high (those percentages) were," said Matt Herndon, principal at Corona Insights. "While not everyone, the vast majority have used marijuana at some point in their lives, and that's higher than we would have expected. That doesn't seem to translate to kids though, and kids were more in line with what we expected, if not a little lower."

First-time marijuana use predominantly occurred among those two adult groups — school parents and 21-to-35 year olds — between the ages of 13 and 17, or in some cases on or before their 12th birthdays. Parents reported marijuana use in those age ranges at a rate of 52 percent, while young adults as a whole responded affirmatively at 69 percent.

As Herndon noted, that doesn't seem to transfer over to local student numbers. Just 4 percent of the responding Summit Middle School population acknowledged trying pot — lower than the state average of 8 percent for students typically aged 11-14. At Summit High, 36 percent self-reported they'd used marijuana compared to 38 percent throughout the rest of the state. About half, or 19 percent, of those Summit high schoolers said they'd used in the past 30 days, while other Colorado secondary students stand at 21 percent.

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Summit High students fell just below state marks by 4 percent for both cigarette and pharmaceutical drug abuse for prescriptions not assigned to them — 16-to-20 percent, and 10-to-14 percent, respectively. However, they did come in 7-percent higher on consumption of alcohol as opposed to the rest of the state, 66-to-59 percent.

"Compared to 2013, we saw improvements in high school use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs in almost every category," said Julie McCluskie, the Summit School District's director of communications. "We are very proud and pleased to see that improvement, but it doesn't mean we can rest on our heels or sit back and relax, because now more than ever, with the legalization of marijuana and living in a resort community, the challenge is greater than years in the past."

The 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado survey showed that almost 43 percent of Summit High attendees had tried marijuana, up almost 7 percent from the current statistics. More than 26 percent had used the drug in the past 30 days, also 7 percentage points higher than the updated data.

Corona did not ask the young adult population about prescription drug abuse, so no data is available for that group. Among parents in their lifetimes, however, the study pointed to use of prescriptions outside a doctor's care at 29 percent. Only a single percent of a smaller collection of respondents said they'd done so within the last 30 days.

As area perceptions of drug use go, most young adults — 87 percent — believed regular marijuana use was either "unsafe" or "very unsafe" for individuals under 21 years old, but only 40 percent believed the same for people over that age. Among parents of schoolchildren, 98 percent affirmed regular use was either "unsafe" or "very unsafe" for people under 21, and 85 percent said the same of people above that age. Summit middle schoolers responded at an 88-percent clip, while high school students did so at 62 percent, that regular marijuana use was unsafe.

Because notions of pot use are at such levels among the local young adult group, McCluskie said that's where the efforts and educational campaigns really need to be done in Summit moving forward. She imagined the school district partnering with other county organizations and large employers that recruit young adults to target this demographic through community conversation-type meetings.

"Young adults don't believe the risk or harm (of marijuana) to people under the age of 21 is as high as it is from a parent perspective," she said. "That tells us that as a community parents are probably communicating with their teenagers and middle and elementary school kids, 'Hey, marijuana isn't safe.' But we need to finds ways to ensure that young adult group better understands the risks of marijuana use or availability."

Still, the overall tenor of the data provided through the recent consolidation of surveys, particularly surrounding student use of marijuana, was received positively. Those gains in marijuana use at the high school, for example, make the local school district believe it is on the right path with current health curriculum and other drug education programming.

"Those numbers affirm what we're doing," said McCluskie, "but also motivates us to do that much more. Because we still have kids using, and we need to take action."