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Survey reveals student behavior trends in Carbon

Sun Advocate reporter

While it's impossible to understand substance abuse entirely schools in Carbon County have been part of an effort to at lease further document its trends. Since 2005 the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey has been conducted. The survey represents an effort to tabulate and understand the behaviors of young people in Carbon County.

Every two years students in sixth through 12th grades, take the survey which provides educators as well as administrators with information regarding in which types of drug and alcohol-related behaviors they are involved with. Additionally, the survey attempts to evaluate how certain types of behaviors such as alcohol use are perceived as opposed to the realities of the situation.

One example from the information gathered is that in 2009 12th grade, students believe that more than 76 percent of their peers drink alcohol within the past 30 days. In contrast, 15 percent of students surveyed responded that they had actually participated in alcohol-related behavior within the same time frame. In almost every sampled area, perceptions of drug and alcohol use were significantly higher than those who answered that they had actually participated.

"A couple of interesting things about this (the survey), is the amount of kids who actually use alcohol and drugs is a lot lower than the perception; it's a great misconception. What this does is help us to look at things more accurately," said Mont Harmon Principal Bruce Bean.

According to the collected information, not only are drugs and alcohol levels measured, but also behavior levels. In 2009 around 10 percent of high school seniors said they had attacked someone with the intent to seriously injure, around 15 percent had been drunk at school and 9 percent had driven drunk.

The survey also takes into account that not all the answers are truthful and conducts several checks to weed out inconsistencies.

"This is a survey that has evolved over the past few years to include several outliers, that help identify which surveys to throw out (in case of inconsistency) to keep things reliable," said Robert Cox at the Carbon School district.

Environmental factors are taken into consideration because in the past unhealthy behaviors have been correlated to different environments. While not every unique situation can be accounted for, the district believes it has gained a good insight to help with prevention. However, a few areas surveyed have caught the district and teachers off guard, including a high percentage of students who get alcohol from their parents with their approval, which is a bit over 20 percent in 2009. The highest percentages of students who got alcohol, got it by paying someone to buy it, or just at a party, (82 percent).

"One of the problems we have with that is that (Carbon County) is a diverse community. In many families, it's customary to drink wine with dinner. The majority of parents are responsible, we might also have a group of parents who just are not," said Cox.

While the percentages of students who use drugs and alcohol tends to rise as they get older, the survey indicates a big jump between the eighth and 10th grades (up from 12 percent to 30 percent usage for within the last 30 days in 2005), but levels tend to plateau by the 12th grade (31 percent).

Most prevalently used among 12th grade students was alcohol, followed by tobacco products and in third marijuana, which wasn't very surprising to the district, but over time (2005-2009) the amount of use appears to have declined. In tracking and cross referencing environmental factors, the information collected shows that strong community support tends to lead to lower abuse rates.

One factor that appears to contribute to substance abuse is a lack of family cohesion. Cox, was not really surprised by this, as he believes that a good community which rewards achievements leads to lower substance abuse, as well as risky behavior.

"Do we offer enough things in our community that reward good behaviors?" he asked. "Do we have opportunities? I think these things make a difference, but family is number one; are the kids' parents home?"

Overall, Carbon County, in terms of drugs and alcohol abuse among students, has a slightly higher average than the state, according to the survey. In 2005 Carbon seniors who had used alcohol within the last 30 days were 26.3 percent. The state average was 17.1 percent. However Carbon, for the same year, was about the same for drug use, excluding marijuana (Carbon was lower at 5.1 percent, state 8 percent).

Around 27.3 percent of the student population was surveyed by Bach Harrison, LLC.

While all areas of the state go through similar surveys, Carbon was one of the original counties, selected along with Davis County as control groups, for a University of Washington study that was also given in eight different western states, back in 2005.

Only a small percentage of the survey was used for this story as it is extensive and covers a diverse range of questions and areas.

However the district hopes that in the future it and its individual schools can take more advantage of the information that it provides.

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