District results presented for Pennsylvania Youth Survey

Shawn Hardy

The Greencastle-Antrim School District isn't seeing any big increases in the use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco, according to the 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey results presented at Thursday evening's school board meeting by Christy Unger, director of community programming for Healthy Communities Partnership of Greater Franklin County.

Unger gave highlights of the 115-page report with G-A and statewide information.

PAYS is given every two years to sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders. She explained the survey is voluntary and it was taken by 97 percent of sixth-graders and 87 percent of eighth-graders in the G-A School District. The numbers drop to about 40 percent for 10th-graders and 22 percent for 12th-graders. She said for interpretation the middle school results are good and the 10th-grade results are OK, but cautioned against the 12th-grader figures due to low participation.

Because of block scheduling and blended classes, the survey is only given to wellness to classes and study halls so not to disrupt the education of the ninth- and 11th-graders, Dr. Ed Rife, high school principal, explained. In addition, some seniors opt out and others are not in school because of internships or classes at Franklin County Career and Technology Center.

"We haven't found the perfect system without shutting the building down, and then what do you do with the ninth- and 11th-graders?" Rife explained.

 PAYS information 

Alcohol continues to be No. 1 in substance use.

Among the survey questions was lifetime use — if they had ever tried alcohol. Responding "yes" in 2017 in the G-ASD: sixth grade, 17 percent; eighth grade, 30 percent; 10th grade, 50 percent; and 12th grade, 49 percent.

For use within the prior 30 days, G-A students reported: sixth grade, 2.3 percent; eighth-grade, 6.5 percent; 10th grade, 25 percent; and 12th grade, 31.4 percent.

"Everyone says it's a rite of passage," Unger said, continuing that attitude will prevail "until we send a clear message that's not the case."

She also talked about where youngsters get alcohol, mainly by taking it without permission or getting it from a friend or sibling over 21. However, parents often are the supplier.

There's a campaign in Chambersburg to show that if kids get in trouble, parents get in more trouble for giving them alcohol.

Among 10th graders, the second most used substance was marijuana. Unger said she thinks that trend will continue to rise with the approval of medical marijuana changing attitudes, while tobacco use is falling.

Overall, students still seem to think marijuana and other drugs are risky, but there is "more conversation to be done."

Rates for prescription narcotics and heroin are "almost negligible across the county and in each district," Unger said.

"Tobacco use in general has been coming down since I started in 2009," Unger added ,before saying, "We're seeing much more vaping."

While e-cigarettes started as a smoking cessation tool, "vaping is a drug," she said.

"It has to be the way it is being advertised ... targeting kids," Unger said.

For example, Juuls (pronounced jewels) are sold in flavors like mango and creme brulee, but do not come in a variety without nicotine, according to Unger.

Vaping devices are small and easy to concealing and can be used, for example, for THC. They are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration because they do not contain nicotine.

Purchasers have to be 18, but most are bought online and all someone has to do is enter a birth date that makes them old enough.

The survey also asked about feeling sad or depressed. Those numbers are going up locally and countywide, Unger said. About 25 percent of Greencastle-Antrim 10th-graders said they had thought about suicide.

Nationwide one in five adolescents qualifies for a mental health diagnosis, but half aren't getting treatment.

"I think Greencastle does a great job identifying student needs," Unger said, citing the Student Assistance Program.

Districts can use PAYS data assess risks; create guides for prevention and intervention; and apply for grants.