By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- The Substance Awareness Center of Indian River County is starting off its new year with victory and excitement for the future health and habits of local youth, thanks to new survey results.
According to data collected by the Florida Department of Children and Families and other state departments for the 2012 Florida youth substance abuse survey, drug use by Indian River County middle school and high school students is down from two years ago.
Three categories in particular were of concern to the nonprofit center: alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use by those students because they were consistently higher than the state average. The new survey shows the gap is narrowing in those areas, while other categories of drug use, including prescription drug use, are also down and even lower than state rates.
The March 2012 survey was taken by 1,399 students from sixth to 12th grades in Indian River County, from ages 10 to 19 and older. The sample group was 51.7 percent female and 46.5 percent male.
Robin Dapp, executive director for the Substance Abuse Center, said the results were like an early Christmas present for her and others, who have been working daily to educate and inform the county's young people about drug use.
According to the survey, the percent of county students who said they had used alcohol at least once in their life was 48.4 percent, compared to the state average of 47.3.
In 2010, the county's students recorded 56 percent in lifetime alcohol use. The percentage of students saying they had tried alcohol at least once in their life was as high as 61.2 percent in 2002.
Alcohol use by minors in Indian River County is much too high, Ms. Dapp said.
"The results (of the survey) tell us about 77 percent of students say they drink in their homes or in the homes of a friend," she said.
Parents often take the position that their children are going to drink, and that letting them drink at home is a safer place because they can be supervised.
"Frankly that is a dangerous point of view," Ms. Dapp said.
Alcohol use is not a benign behavior in adolescents, and in Indian River County more under-aged students say they have consumed alcohol in their lifetime rather than any other drug, more than the percentage of using cigarettes and marijuana combined, Ms. Dapp said.
Adolescent use of alcohol has long-term health consequences, including liver damage, brain development and can lead to alcohol dependence, studies have shown.
"Alcohol is a drug. It's a liquid drug," Ms. Dapp said.
According to the survey, marijuana, or hashish, use by students was 24 percent, down from 27.4 percent in 2010. The 2012 state average for marijuana use was 23.2 percent.
Cigarette use by students was 23.3 percent, down from 31.6 percent in 2010. The 2012 state average for cigarette use was 21.3 percent.
Even with the good news that the results show substance usage by students has decreased, there is still more work to be done, Ms. Dapp said.
The Substance Abuse Center provides various services to the community, including presenting Lifeskills® training, a science-based prevention program, to Indian River County students in grades sixth through eighth.
Instead of preaching "no drugs, no drugs," the program focuses on teaching positive life skills to help them in everyday life, including health knowledge, self-control and social anxiety.
"We don't help decrease drug use by talking about drugs," Ms. Dapp said.
Dispelling myths about drug use are certainly taught, but the program goals are to delay the age on first substance use because the earlier the first use, the greater risk for developing addiction and increase the practice of healthy coping and social skills of students.
Breathing techniques are one example of the positive things taught in the classroom that adults and children should learn, she said.
Deep breaths can result in a clearer mind before a test, and calming a tendency toward anger, physical violence and more.
"Good, fresh oxygen is better than a Xanax," Ms. Dapp said.
The Substance Awareness Center of Indian River County is located at 1507 20th St., Vero Beach. For more information about the center, call (772) 770-4811 or visit www.sairc.org.
To view the full survey report, visit www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/substance-abuse/florida-youth-substance-abuse-survey-fysas.