SIKESTON -- A recent national survey found the majority of teens feel their school is "drug-free" -- a result some local educators feel should be credited to increased drug education programs.
"We have DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs and health classes, which are informational for students and teach about the ill-effects of drugs and alcohol," said Tom Williams, Sikeston Senior High principal. "Plus, we opened last Monday and DPS (Department of Public Safety) gave a drug information meeting for teachers, parents and their children."
This was the first time in the seven-year history of the survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that a majority of public school students are reporting drug-free schools.
The national survey polled 1,000 children ages 12 to 17. Findings revealed 62 percent of children ages 12-17 felt their school was drug-free, compared to 40 percent in 2000.
One major drug-use deterrent for teens attending Sikeston Senior High is the new drug policy, William said. If students are caught with any drug items, they will receive a 45-day out-of-school suspension. Periodic visits from drug dogs also serve as deterrents, he added.
According to Joby Holland, principal at New Madrid County Central High School, the school district implements a drug policy for all extracurricular activities. A mandatory drug test is given at the beginning of the season, and then students are randomly checked throughout the season, he said.
Charleston Principal Mark Miller said drug and alcohol education is also a priority in the community. "We're very concerned about having a drug-free school," Miller said.
Drug and alcohol education techniques and programs used by the Charleston School District include monthly random checks by metal detectors and anti-drug messages that run through sports' games broadcasted on the radio, Miller said. A drug program sponsored by Mississippi County which resembles the DARE program, is given to sixth graders by a school resource officer.
"Most of our students have a little extra respect for schools that they leave that stuff behind," Miller explained. "Kids realize the awareness and know consequences are serious if they're caught with drugs or alcohol."
The survey also said teen risk of substance abuse increases by almost 500 percent between the ages of 12 and 16. Ninety-five percent of teens who smoke cigarettes start at or before age 15. Average age of first use for these teens is 12.
Ninety-three percent of teens who drink alcohol start at or before age 15; the average age of first use for these teens is 12 . Eighty-six percent of teens who smoke marijuana start at or before age 15, and the average age of first use for these teens is 13.
With these statistics, it's obvious children need substance abuse education early in their lives. Williams said he definitely feels children are being informed about drugs and alcohol at an earlier age in Southeast Missouri.
"I know -- not just as an administrator, but from a parent's standpoint -- that my kids are being educated," Williams said.
Another first for the study included marijuana beating out cigarettes and beer as the easiest drug for teens to buy. Thirty-four percent said it's the easiest of the three, compared with 31 percent for cigarettes and 14 percent for beer. Twenty-seven percent of the teens said they could buy marijuana in an hour or less, and another 8 percent said it would take a few hours.
Miller said he wasn't too surprised. "Marijuana vendors don't care what age their buyers are, whereas alcohol and cigarette vendors can lose licenses or be fined," he said.
A twist to this finding is that 75 percent of the teens surveyed said they've never smoked marijuana. Miller doesn't necessarily believe that figure is accurate, but he does believe implementing educational programs and school policies on drugs and alcohol deters students from engaging in the behavior.
Miller reasoned: "Whether kids want to admit it or not, they like to go to school, and to be expelled or suspended isn't something they want."
This year's random telephone survey of students age 12-17 was conducted Dec. 27, 2001-Feb. 6, 2002, by QEV Analytics. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.