By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer
Overall teen drug use in Greater Cincinnati is at its lowest level since the mid-1980s, according to a survey released Thursday.
Less than 20 percent of students said they used cigarettes or beer at least once a month, the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati said. Regular use of beer was as high as 30 percent in 2000.
Marijuana use is unchanged since 2002, about 13 percent, while use of hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, remained at or below 3 percent.
The 2004 statistics, especially for beer and cigarettes, are now lower than both Ohio and national averages.
The survey is considered the most reliable indicator of student drug use in the Tristate. It is conducted every two years.
About 64,000 students completed the 2004 survey. They were in grades 7 through 12 and enrolled at 186 public and private schools from the 10-county region of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
"This is certainly encouraging news," said Rhonda Ramsey Molina, president of the drug-free coalition.
Students interviewed Thursday agreed with most of the survey's findings. Cigarettes are becoming less glamorous, but beer, despite declining use, is still a big problem, they said.
Nineteen percent of students still reported using beer.
"When you're in school, it's a big thing to go to parties and hang out with friends, but you can see that beer is almost always around," said Megan Ossenbeck, a 17-year-old senior at Anderson High School in Anderson Township. Ossenbeck is also a member of the drug-free coalition.
The decline in drug use is the result of parents who take the time to discuss drug issues and set rules, Ramsey Molina said.
Also, more students are involved in faith-based programs or participating in school clubs and sports, Ramsey Molina said. Both send positive messages that reduce drug use, she said.
The group also credited anti-drug advertising campaigns.
But the survey shows more work could be done.
Children first begin to use drugs at age 12, meaning that middle school years are a critical time for intervention.
Also, there's still a troublesome perception among some students that beer and marijuana are not harmful drugs.
"Too many of our kids are still putting themselves in harm's way," said U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, who founded the anti-drug coalition in 1996.
The survey cost $90,000, funded largely by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati and Procter & Gamble Co., whose marketing research department designed the survey.
Names of participating schools were not released because of a confidentiality agreement, said Paul Zimmerman, a marketing researcher at P&G.
But Zimmerman stressed that drug use is essentially the same across all schools - public, private, urban, suburban and rural.
According to the survey, more than 70 percent of student drug use occurs at private homes.
"I don't do this stuff, but a lot of people drink on the weekends. Usually, it's the same group of people who get together when someone's parents aren't home," said Kelsey Johnson, a 15-year-old sophomore at William Mason High School in Mason.
Johnson also said athletes aren't necessarily drug-free.
"During the season, I know a lot who try not to drink, but off-season is a different matter," she said.
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