More Spokane teens consider alcohol use risky, but fewer teens consider marijuana and nicotine use to be risky according to recent results from the state Healthy Youth Survey. Spokane Regional Health District echoes Washington State Department of Health concerns that when the perceived risk from using substances goes down, substance use typically goes up. The latest data for Spokane County is showing that concern to be true.
“Youth substance use going up means that more of our teens are at higher risk for impairment and addiction,” said Dr. Joel McCullough, SRHD health officer. “These behaviors contribute to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults locally and nationally. Family and community support is needed to keep alcohol, marijuana and e-cigarettes out of the hands of kids, and to provide a healthy home and community environment.”
The Healthy Youth Survey is taken every two years by students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 in almost 1,000 public schools in Washington state. In Spokane County, nearly 10,000 youth in these grades took part in the survey in October 2014, answering a wide variety of questions about their health and health behaviors. All responses were voluntary and anonymous.
Here are some local survey results at a glance:
- E-cigarette use -- 26 percent among sophomores -- increased since the last survey and is at twice the state’s rate.
- Marijuana use -- 19 percent among high school sophomores -- increased. One in four seniors reported marijuana use in the past 30 days.
Electronic-cigarette use, as well as marijuana use, among Spokane sophomores is each nearly double the rate of regular cigarette-use (12 percent).
Cigarette use among Spokane teens is also up and rates among Spokane 10th- and 12th graders are higher than state rates.
Past-month-use of alcohol among 10th-graders continued to trend down.
“It is great news that our investments in proven prevention strategies are working to keep most youth alcohol- and drug-free,” continued Dr. McCullough. “However, with nearly one in five of our high-schoolers using alcohol, marijuana and/or nicotine regularly, there is a long road in front of our community in working to better protect the health and safety of our young people.”
Driving under the influence of marijuana remains a serious concern. Statewide, almost one in five (19 percent) high school sophomores reported riding in a car with a driver who had been using marijuana, and one in six (17 percent) high school seniors reported driving a car within three hours of using marijuana.
However, youth understand the importance of not riding with a driver under the influence of alcohol. Fewer sophomores reported riding in cars with drinking drivers (26 percent in 2008 compared to 17 percent in 2014), and drinking and driving dropped from 6 percent in 2008 to 5 percent. The same messages need to be applied to marijuana.
Concerning electronic cigarette use, the long-term health effects of inhaling nicotine or other substances using e-cigarettes is still not known. Also, inhaled and exhaled e-cigarette aerosol can contain nicotine (which in itself is toxic), as well as ultrafine particles that can irritate the lungs, and toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, such as cadmium and formaldehyde. The devices can also be used with THC (the active ingredient of marijuana) and virtually any other drug.
Specific to electronic cigarettes and the vaping of marijuana, said Dr. McCullough, “We’ve got to ring the alarm bell because teens are indicating they don’t consider electronic cigarette and marijuana use to be risky. Similar to past successful efforts to prevent cigarette use, especially among teens, we need a stronger regulatory structure for sale and distribution of vaping devices, which is part of legislation currently pending before the state legislature. There is also a need for more funding for education campaigns to prevent under-age use of these devices and of marijuana.”
Regarding tobacco, the long downward trend for smoking was interrupted for 10th-graders in Spokane with an increase in use to 12 percent. Health disparities are still seen in young people in certain racial and ethnic populations as they continue to smoke at higher rates.
Encouragingly, most students in the survey said they don’t use any substances, and the alcohol trends are down. But current use-rates of all substances are still a concern, especially emerging trends related to marijuana and electronic cigarettes.
Following the lead of state health officials, local public health, its partners, and schools will continue to use these results to inform prevention initiatives aimed at improving teen health and learning. Information on ways to prevent youth substance use and get involved is available online.
The Healthy Youth Survey results provide state and local health organizations with needed information to plan, implement, and evaluate publicly-funded programs. The survey is a collaborative effort DOH, Department of Social and Health Services, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Liquor Control Board. Survey results are posted on the Healthy Youth Survey home page, AskHYS.
For more information about Spokane Regional Health District’s efforts to reduce youth substance use, visit srhd.org.