Youth Task Force coalition considers next steps based on survey

Members of the Youth Task Force Coalition met last week to learn about the results of the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey given to middle and high school students in Martha's Vineyard Public Schools. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

In response to survey findings that marijuana use is up among Island middle and high school students, the Dukes County Health Council Youth Task Force (YTF) coalition plans to develop new strategies to educate students and their parents about the drug’s harmful effects and to combat accessibility in the community at large.

Theresa Manning and Jamie Vanderhoop, the YTF coalition’s co-coordinators, presented the results of the 2012 Martha’s Vineyard Youth Risk Behavior Survey, available online at, at a meeting last Thursday at the regional high school. The group of about 20 coalition members that attended included police officers, educators, school committee members, parents, and community leaders.

The YTF has been collecting data about youth risk behavior for more than 10 years from a variety of sources. The first Youth Risk Behavior (YRB) Survey, conducted in 1999, provided data about substance abuse rates and issues for middle-school and high-school aged youth in the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools. The YRB Survey has been conducted every two years on Martha’s Vineyard since 2005.

A total of 888 middle school and high school students in grades 7-12 participated in the 64-question survey, which is voluntary and anonymous, during their regularly scheduled classes on February 10 and 15 this year.

Out of 350 middle school students enrolled, 303 or 86.6 percent, participated. At Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, 524 students out of 717 students enrolled, about 73 percent, took the survey. Ms. Manning said responses from 61 students, about 6.9 percent of the total surveyed, were eliminated by a validity check.

Middle and high school findings

A chart Ms. Manning provided to The Times in advance of the coalition meeting compared Martha’s Vineyard high school students’ substance use in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2012.

In regard to alcohol use, the percentages of high school students who drink shows a steady decline over the past four years, dropping from 55 percent of those surveyed in 2007 to 42 percent in 2012. The percentage of students whose alcohol consumption levels are considered high-risk dropped from 39 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in 2012.

The percentage of students who smoke cigarettes dropped only slightly, from 13 percent in 2007 to 12 percent in 2012.

Marijuana use, however, is on the rise, increasing from 30 percent of students surveyed in 2007 who reported smoking it within the past month, to 34 percent in 2009 and 2010, and 39 percent in 2012.

Ms. Manning’s presentation last week included more details about the high school findings, as well as the results for middle school students.

In regard to alcohol use, the percentage of middle school students that said they used alcohol at least one day in the last month was 7.3 percent, compared to 10 percent in 2010. About 2.3 percent of the middle school students reported engaging in high-risk, or binge, drinking over the past month, compared to 4 percent in 2010. There are no state-level Massachusetts YRB survey or national YRB survey data to use as a comparison for middle school youth, the report said.

The percentage of middle school students who smoke cigarettes is 1 percent, compared to 2 percent in 2010.

Unlike the high school findings, marijuana use among middle school students went down, from 5 percent in 2010 to 4 percent in the 2012 results.

All of the survey respondents were also asked to report the number of days in the past month they had at least one drink on school property. Although no students in the middle school group reported using alcohol at school, 4.8 percent of high school students did. When asked about smoking marijuana on school property, 1.3 percent of middle school students and 12.7 percent of high school students said they had done so in the last 30 days.

The survey also found that 1 percent of middle school students and 5 percent of high school students said they had driven a vehicle after drinking. The numbers were higher for students who rode with a driver who had been drinking, at 15.6 percent for middle schoolers and 17.4 percent for high schoolers.

Ms. Manning said the 2012 survey is the first to include a detailed account of prescription drug use and over the counter drug use for unintended purposes. Among the findings, 9.3 percent of middle school students and 10.8 percent of high school students reported they use inhalants. The use of prescription sedatives was reported by 3.4 percent of middle school students and 6.9 percent of high school students, and narcotic prescription drugs by 1 percent of middle school students and 9.6 percent of high school students.

The survey also asked students whether they thought it was easy to get alcohol or other drugs if they wanted them. About 1 in 3 middle school students and a majority of high school students said they thought it would be “very easy” or “sort of easy” to get alcohol or marijuana. There were other questions that asked their perceptions of parental and peer disapproval of using alcohol and drugs, the prevalence of drug and alcohol use, and the risks involved, and what strategies they use for avoiding drinking alcohol.

Putting the results to use

Ms. Manning posed the question, “Where do we go next?” to the coalition members at the end of her presentation.

Susan Mercier, the chairman of the All-Island School Committee, said she found the increase in prescription drug use disconcerting. “That number scares me, to be honest,” she said. “I’m assuming there has to be a direction we can take, such as maybe meeting with physicians on the Island.”

Other ideas included discussing the survey results in more detail with students, teachers, and parents. YTF board member Cindy Doyle said that given the medical marijuana question approved by voters last week, coupled with the survey findings about students’ marijuana use, it might be helpful for the YTF to offer a public program about new research on the drug’s effects. Ms. Manning suggested putting together a panel that would include a medical expert and police officer to talk about the effects of marijuana and also the implications of the new medical marijuana legislation.

Ms. Manning said Bach Harrison LLC, the firm that processed the survey responses and produced the final report, has technical advisors available to help the coalition develop some strategies and is interested in meeting with YTF coalition members over the winter.

The coalition includes about 50 people who are a diverse representation from Island police departments, town government, tribal government, schools, local business owners, youth, parents, youth service organizations, and the religious community.