Survey: Alcohol, tobacco use falls; drug use rises for Austin youth

A federal survey shows alcohol and tobacco use among teens is declining, though marijuana and synthetic marijuana use is on the rise.

The National Institute of Health’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey results were released Wednesday. Though the survey results were positive, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use among teens is still a concern in Austin and across the U.S.

The annual survey sampled 43,773 students from 400 public and private schools. According to the survey, daily cigarette use is down among eighth-graders, sophomores and seniors, the three grades that were surveyed. About 2.4 percent of eighth-graders, 5.5 percent of sophomores, and 10.3 percent of seniors said they smoked daily.

In addition, alcohol use is declining in all grade levels, from 8.7 to 6.4 percent among eighth-graders, 19.9 to 14.7 percent of sophomores and 25.4 to 21.6 percent of high school seniors from 2006 to 2011.

While that’s comforting news, there are still substance problems among Austin youth.

“Really, alcohol is our No. 1 nemesis,” said Thor Berglund, Austin High School counselor.

According to the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey, about 50 percent of AHS seniors have tried alcohol, and about 45 percent of AHS students have tried marijuana.

The Monitoring the Future survey also showed about 1 in 9 high schoolers nationwide have tried synthetic marijuana, a legal yet sometimes fatal substance.

“It’s an issue that needs to be known,” Berglund said.

Not many teens in Austin use K2, however. That’s due to a concerted effort by the Austin Area Drug Task Force when K2 use first became an issue. Synthetic marijuana is technically legal and for sale in several surrounding communities. Not in Austin, however, as educators, residents and police asked several local business to not carry the product.

“We’ve had great cooperation in town,” said Police Captain Dave McKichan.

People purchase synthetic marijuana in the form of incense, which already has mood-altering chemicals sprayed on it.

“No one can really track the chemical compounds,” Berglund said. “No one knows how many compounds are in each package.”

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