A recent survey found that one in four Cleveland County high school seniors smoked marijuana in the last 30 days. The teens also said marijuana is easier to get than alcohol. Photo by Associated Press
SHELBY — One in four of the county’s high school seniors have used marijuana in the last 30 days, and those students report the drug is easier to get than alcohol.
Marijuana use overall is on the rise among Cleveland County’s young people – with more sixth-, ninth- and 12th-graders saying they’ve tried the so-called gateway drug than those surveyed three years ago.
The statistics come from the 2012 Pride Student Drug Use Survey, which was administered in March to nearly 3,000 students from 10 Cleveland County schools. The Alliance for Health of Cleveland County and the Cleveland County Health Department released results from the survey Wednesday, giving health care providers, educators and the community an inside look into students’ behaviors.
“We can’t say that it’s a parent’s fault or that it’s the schools’ fault or the church has failed,” said DeShay Oliver, health education specialist and public information officer for the Cleveland County Health Department. “I think everybody has a hand in it.”
County student marijuana use higher than national average
Marijuana use among the county’s ninth- and 12th-graders is higher than the national average for 2010-11, according to the Pride Survey results. About 20 percent of the 2012 freshman class has tried marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to 12.8 percent of freshman nationwide.
Mainstream media has been filled with talk of marijuana in recent years. Some argue marijuana should be legalized. They compare the drug’s impairing effects to alcohol and cite benefits for patients with cancer and other debilitating illnesses.
Students hear those arguments and form their own opinions about the drugs’ effects.
“If students perceive that it’s got ‘medical’ attached to it in any way, (they think) that makes it OK,” Anne Short, director of community health services for the Cleveland County Health Department, told community leaders gathered Wednesday at Cleveland Regional Medical Center.
Cleveland County’s law enforcement officials say they’re working to educate youth about the dangers of marijuana and prevent teens from experimenting with other drugs.
Sheriff Alan Norman called the county’s survey results “extremely shocking.” If there are teens who want to use marijuana, there will always be ways for them to get it, he said.
“Where there’s demand, there is supply, regardless of what the substance may be,” Norman said, “whether it's legal or illegal."
The Sheriff’s Office and county municipalities have school resource officers that patrol schools. Norman said sheriff’s deputies will randomly bring K-9 officers into schools and check for drugs.
Drugs found within the sheriff’s office schools are normally individual supplies, Norman said.
Officers develop relationships with students and teachers that help prevent drug use among teens, said Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford.
“Our SROs hear a lot and a lot of students build relationships with SROS and feel like they can talk to them,” Ledford said, adding that it’s also important for police to develop relationships with parents, too.
Both men agreed that, while law enforcement plays a role in fighting drug use among students, the issue involves everyone in the community.
School programming lost
Cleveland County previously had a drug education program that was funded through the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools program. The county used the money to bring in health department educators that would teach middle- and high-school students about drugs, peer pressure and ways to say, “No.”
The funding ended in 2009, and the county was no longer able to bring health department educators into the schools to teach the evidence-based Safe and Drug-Free Schools program.
Cleveland County Schools spokeswoman Donna Carpenter said that program was a large part of the school system’s drug-prevention efforts. The most recent survey results – showing an increase in the percentage of students who use marijuana – show how the loss of that program impacted Cleveland County students, she said.
Reported drug use among Cleveland County students generally decreased from 2006 to 2009. Reported drug use, however, increased among high school students from 2009 to 2012. Oliver said she thinks the Safe and Drug-Free Schools programming contributed to the decline of drug use reported in 2009, before the program was cut.
Middle school health courses include information about drug prevention and awareness, but the courses aren’t as comprehensive as the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, Carpenter said. She also said students benefitted from having trained health care providers come into schools to teach students.
“Our staff will be continuing to look at this and talk with people at different agencies about what we can do,” Carpenter said.
Reach reporter Jordan-Ashley Baker at 704-669-3332, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @JAB_ShelbyStar.
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