The following is a guest column by Marilyn G. Belmonte of the Burlington Drug & Alcohol Task Force:
In January 2012, the Burlington Drug & Alcohol Task Force administered the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to Burlington High School students to determine local information on a wide range of risky teen behaviors including substance abuse, nutrition, violence, and depression.
The YRBS is an anonymous student survey created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to collect data on adolescent health and watch for increasing trends in dangerous behaviors. Burlington is one of many Massachusetts communities that apply for grant money to administer this nationally recognized survey to teens.
The good news is that Burlington students reported healthier choices than the Massachusetts state average in most sections of the survey including drug use.
29.6% of Burlington students reported that they have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime compared to 43% of the Massachusetts state average. Current marijuana use is determined by asking if students have used marijuana one or more times in the past month. 20.4% of BHS students reported current marijuana use as compared to the MA current use of 28%.
The YRBS also asks students about the onset of marijuana use. Only 5.3% of BHS students reported using marijuana before the age of 13 while the MA average for such early use is 9%. This is very good news for Burlington parents. Studies show that the earlier children begin using marijuana, the greater the risk of them developing a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression
The latest research on adolescent brain development has proven that teen marijuana use impairs learning, memory, attention span and higher cognitive functions. In order to increase student academic performance, it is important to prevent teen marijuana use or at least postpone it for as long as possible.
Other drug use was reported as similar to percentages of state results. 6.1% of BHS students reported trying cocaine at least once and 2.8% reported trying heroin at least once. Abuse of prescription drugs was lower than the state average. Only 13% of BHS students reported using someone else’s prescription medication while the state average is 15%.
After results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey were presented to the Burlington School Committee, there were two very positive outcomes. First, the School Committee decided to allocate funds to administer the YRBS every 2 years (as the CDC recommends) to keep track of student health. Second, the School Committee created a YRBS sub-committee of the School Wellness Committee to organize the administration of future surveys.
The Drug & Alcohol Task Force commends the members of our School Committee for its proactive steps to monitor the health and wellness of Burlington children. Special thanks go to Eric Conti, Patrick Larkin, Mark Sullivan, Tracy Camarro, Sue Fay, Kristin Russo, Christine Shruhan, and Charlie Franich.
Click here to read: Prevention Connection: Risky Behaviors of Our Teens (Part 1)
Marilyn Belmonte is Co-Chairperson of the Burlington Drug & Alcohol Task Force, a teen substance abuse prevention educator and founder of Healthy Outcomes, Inc. which helps communities to reduce underage drinking and teen drug use. For more information on upcoming meetings and events, visit the Task Force on Facebook or contact Marilyn Belmonte at 781-229-2638.