Survey: Most Alaska teens think drug misuse not a 'serious risk'
Alaska teenagers are showing “concerning” opinions regarding the use of prescription and illicit drugs according to a statewide survey, even as they reduce other risky behaviors like underage sex and smoking.
The state Department of Health and Social Services released its biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey on Wednesday, breaking down responses from more than 1,300 teens in 40 Alaska high schools on issues ranging from automotive behavior to self-esteem. The survey compares responses from males and females, as well as a number of racial groups.
Some of the most immediate concerns raised by the survey are in the realm of prescription drug misuse, including their use without a prescription or differently than a doctor has ordered.
“Less than half of Alaska high school students report they think taking prescription drugs, including opioid pain medications, without a doctor’s prescription or using the medication differently than prescribed is a serious risk,” state officials wrote. “Seven percent of high school students report use of prescription drugs, including opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin, without a doctor’s prescription or differently than prescribed during the past month. Nearly two percent of Alaska teens currently use heroin.”
Dr. Jay Butler, the state’s chief medical officer, said DHSS is working “diligently” to inform teens on how to safely use and dispose of opioids.
“The more we know about the opinions and behaviors of Alaska teens, the better we can respond with relevant information about prescription opioid use,” Butler said. “Using pain medication like Vicodin or OxyContin without a prescription can be extremely dangerous.”
There were some bright spots in the survey, as well.
“The YRBS survey results showed some positive behavior changes among Alaska teens, including decreases in cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and sexual activity during the past decade,” state officials wrote. “When comparing survey findings from 2007 and 2017, a greater percentage of high school students in 2017 feel that their teachers care about and encourage them.”
Some 21.2 percent of students, up from 20.1 percent in 2015, reported being in a physical fight during the previous year. Roughly the same number of students – 8.2 and 8.8 percent, respectively – said they had carried a weapon to school or felt unsafe headed to or from school during the previous month.
The data also tracked a host of risky behaviors based on how students said they’d been driving during the month prior to taking the survey.
Just 4.3 percent of students, down from 5.6 percent in 2015, said they had driven a vehicle when they had been drinking. Roughly one in six teens said they had ridden in a car with a driver who was drinking, down from nearly one in four in 2007. Many more, however, said they had texted or emailed while driving – 28.6 percent, down from 35.1 percent the year before.
Bullying statistics also showed a recent uptick, from 20.7 percent experiencing it on school property during the previous year in 2013 to 23.3 percent this year – and 19.8 percent saying they experienced cyberbullying online. More than a third of students, 36.1 percent, said they had felt “sad or hopeless” for a two-week period during the previous year.
Several types of reported suicidal behavior rose in 2017 from previous years, with 22.8 percent and 20.7 percent of students saying they had seriously considered killing themselves and made a plan to do so. Some 12.1 percent said they had made a suicide attempt, and 4.2 percent said they suffered an injury in the attempt which required medical care.
Although slightly more students this year said they had tried tobacco in their lifetimes – 34 percent, up from 32.5 percent in 2015 – reports of habitual cigarette smoking were down slightly. Just 10.9 percent of students said they had smoked in the previous month, with 2.8 percent smoking frequently and 2.1 percent smoking daily.
Alaska has been conducting the voluntary survey since 1995, anonymously and with parental consent, in accordance with a template created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The students selected for the survey were representative of the state’s public high schools, excluding other types of instruction such as boarding schools and home schooling.
Katie Reilly, program manager of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services joined KTVA Extra for an interview.
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