BREWER, Maine — Some middle and high school students admit in a confidential survey that they use alcohol, smoke cigarettes and marijuana, but the majority of their fellow students shun the practice.
In the 30 days before taking the written survey in the spring, 22.6 percent of Brewer students said they had used alcohol at least once, while only 10.3 percent had lit up a cigarette and 8.3 percent had smoked marijuana.
“In all three of those categories, Brewer students reported significantly less use,” compared to state averages, Superintendent Daniel Lee said when presenting the survey results to the Brewer School Committee earlier this month.
The survey was conducted by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Substance Abuse under the state’s Bureau of Health and Human Services, and in Brewer 68 percent of middle and high school students participated.
“It’s good to be lower than the state, but in my opinion, the numbers are still too high,” school board Chairman Mark Farley said at the board’s Dec. 1 meeting.
The good news is that all of Brewer’s numbers dropped compared to the 2006 survey results. For example, alcohol use plummeted from 38.8 percent in 2006 to just over 22 percent, and binge drinking in the two weeks before taking the survey dropped from 22 percent in 2006 to 10 percent this year.
All others fell 8.4 percent to 2.1 percent between the two surveys taken.
In the interim between the two surveys, a councilor who handles issues including substance abuse has been hired, according to Lee.
“I think it says a lot about our Community of Caring and the values we try to teach our students,” Lee said.
More than half of the students at Brewer Middle School and Brewer High School, which has a nearly 50-50 mix of students from the city and sending communities, also reported they participated in clubs, organizations and other school activities, or volunteered for the school or in the community.
“The part I’m really pleased about is the pro-social behavior,” Lee said.
The survey also tallied students’ “at risk” and “protected” behaviors, through survey questions about opportunities for community, family and school involvement and rewards, family attachment, and peer social skills and moral order beliefs.
Sixth-grade students reported that they believe their peers are more acceptable of antisocial behavior (52.9 percent) and drug use (61.1 percent), while rewards for antisocial behavior from peers is the only “at risk” behavior that more than 50 percent of seniors reported.
Students also reported that they felt “protected” by their families, schools and communities, with more than 50 percent reporting positive numbers in all of the categories. Seniors, however, did report a drop in the number of opportunities for community involvement available to them.
The single category that stood out significantly was the use of inhalants, with 11 percent of students saying they have at least tried them, compared to the state’s average of 10.8 percent.
For Brewer, inhalant use by sixth- and eighth-graders far exceeded the state averages, while use by all other grades fell well below their statewide counterparts.
Lee said Monday he and Brewer School Department staff would use the survey to review and revise rules concerning drug and alcohol use.
“You can’t begin to address problems unless you take the risk of looking at something very openly and honestly,” he said. “Kids make decision based on peer pressure. Growing up is hard. You want to fit in, you want to be part of the crowd. But part of our job [as educators] is to teach them about healthy lifestyles.”
Without the survey, it would be difficult to identify what areas need addressing, he said.
“It tells us some very good things, but it also tells us things that we should be concerned about,” Lee said.
Lee said he hopes other area schools will “take the risk” of exposing drug and alcohol use at their schools, so the problem can be addressed regionally.
“I don’t think we’re very different from any other community or any other school” in the area, he said. “We can’t ignore that fact that our [communities] have a drug problem. I think it’s a national problem.
“An honest discussion on this would be really helpful on a regional basis, with schools, law enforcement and municipalities involved,” Lee said.