Lyme-Old Lyme drug, alcohol, tobacco survey among teens raises familiar issues of concern

Old Lyme - More than 30 residents on Thursday attended a forum addressing drug and alcohol use and prevention among youths in the Lyme and Old Lyme communities.

The forum, which presented the results of an anonymous 2013 survey of Lyme-Old Lyme youths in grades 7 through 12, focused on combating youth substance abuse beyond just the school system.

"We see this as a community issue," said Lymes' Youth Service Bureau Director Mary Seidner.

The presentation focused on several factors, including peer and parent disapproval of drugs and alcohol use, that the survey found was correlated to lower alcohol and drug use. Speakers also addressed the need to make it harder and less acceptable for youths to access drugs and alcohol at home and in the community.

Hosting alternative activities to house parties, organizing additional forums for students to talk to their peers about substance abuse, and social media campaigns against substance abuse were some ideas identified during break-out sessions to fight drug and alcohol abuse in the community.

Overall, the survey results showed some stability or declining trends in alcohol and drug use, but also some "areas of concern," particularly in marijuana use and attitudes.

Thirty percent of Lyme-Old Lyme High School students admitted to ever drinking alcohol in 2013, compared to 43 percent in 2011.

The average age for first use of marijuana was 14 in 2013, younger than the age of 14.6 shown in 2011. The average age for first use of alcohol remained at 14.3 in 2013, the same as 2011.

Fewer students in the younger grades of seven through nine perceive marijuana as harmful than they did when students were first surveyed in 2006. In all grades, with the exception of 10th grade, more students perceive it as harmful than in 2011.

Karen Fischer, the prevention coordinator of Lymes' Youth Service Bureau's Community Action for Substance Free Youth, said easier access to marijuana and the softening of perception of its harm contribute to the younger age of first use of marijuana.

Tobacco use also showed declining trends, with 10 percent of Lyme-Old Lyme High School students admitting to ever smoking cigarettes in 2013, compared to 22 percent in 2011.

Electronic cigarettes, which 11 percent of high school students had used, was another area of concern, according to the presentation.

"This is something that is associated with addiction to nicotine and cigarettes," said Fischer, pointing out that e-cigarettes are unregulated, so anybody can access them.

In response to an audience question, Fischer said Thursday's presentation focused on alcohol and marijuana because those areas represent the "largest problem." Out of the 674-student sample size, no students admitted to heroin use on the survey, and a couple said they had used cocaine. Prescription drug users represented a couple of students in each class.

The Lymes' Youth Service Bureau and The Community Action for Substance Free Youth, a local prevention council, hosted the event.

k.drelich@theday.com

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