Final student surveys show some positive trends.
Sarah Reese and Sue Thompson of Polk County Public Health went before the Polk County Commissioner's Board of Commissioners this week to detail the outcomes of the 10-year "Drug Free Communities" grant. They had some positive numbers to give the board.
Over the last decade, surveys were done yearly in Polk County schools to see the percentage of students who did not drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or use drugs in the past 30 days.
• In the smoking tobacco section, there were 90.7 percent of students who did not smoke in the past 30 days during the 2012-2013 school year survey. This is up from 82.5 percent in the 2003-2004 survey.
• In the drinking alcohol section, there were 78.7 percent of students who did not drink alcohol in the past 30 days during the 2012-2013 school year survey. This is up from 61.8 percent in the 2003-2004 survey.
• In the drug use section, there were 91.4 percent of students who did not use drugs in the past 30 days during the 2012-2013 school year survey. This is up from 85.9 percent in the 2003-2004 survey.
A perception survey was also done on students to see if they thought other students were using. Thompson and Reese agreed that a student's perception of what their peers were doing was way off. Reese said, "Perception drives behavior. If everyone else is doing it, I should too." They found that over 50 percent of all students surveyed thought their peers used drugs, alcohol or tobacco in the past 30 days.
During this grant, Polk County worked with students and parents to reduce the risk of smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs. Students did in and out of school activities while looking out for signs of risky behaviors was taught to parents. Research showed that if students didn't use for 30 days, they were at a lower risk for using in the future.
Ed Simonson of South Dakota State University was the evaluator of the surveys done in schools. He only threw out six surveys due to irregularity. hompson was "confident that these statistics given by Simonson were correct." The national average of students not using drugs, tobacco or alcohol was about the same.
Reese mentioned that 2007's "Freedom to Breathe Act" that restricted the act of smoking tobacco products in public places most likely helped reduce the number of students who smoked. She is concerned of the marijuana use increasing if Minnesota makes it legal. Reese said that "marijuana is way different now than it was 30, 40, 50 years ago. The toxicity levels are higher." Thompson added that "THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) was around 25 percent back in the 1970s where now it is around 35 percent."
Polk County is no longer eligible to receive the Drug Free Communities grant as the county has already used up its 10 years. PCPH will continue with surveys of students, but it won't be as frequent. Thompson said, "We just want kids to make healthy easy choices."
The county will continue to apply for similar grants and collaborate with other agencies to do what is best for the people of Polk County, the pair said.