Drug, alcohol use among OPRF students high but dropping

High school still reports higher usage percentages than suburban Cook County

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Keith Bullock, a student assistance coordinator with Downers Grove North High School, stood in front of a projector in the north lunchroom at Oak Park and River Forest High School on Jan. 26.

The Oak Park resident might have been mistaken for an administrator presenting a PowerPoint presentation to faculty and staff members on some abstract subject such as cumulative test scores or Common Core if not for the dozen or so teenagers sitting at tables directly in front of him. And that's the point, he noted.

"One of the things that we want to do is to share this information, not just with families, but with students," he said.

"We know that scaring them doesn't work a whole lot; doesn't have a lasting impact. Lying to them is not very effective, because then it discredits everything you say. So really, [we have to work at] sharing these numbers in a way that is age appropriate that ultimately leads to reduction in use."

Bullock was presenting the data culled from the 2014 Illinois Youth Survey (IYS), which has been administered to OPRF students every two years since 2006. Last year, the study polled 651 sophomores and 498 seniors at the school, all of whom remained anonymous, on the extent to which they've used alcohol and marijuana during the weeks prior to taking the survey. This most recent IYS data was also presented at a Jan. 29 D200 Board of Education meeting.

Overall, the IYS shows alcohol and marijuana usage among OPRF students has declined nearly across the board since 2006, although the declines have not been linear.

For instance, the percentage of OPRF seniors who reported alcohol use within the past 30 days (which would have been March-April 2014) prior to taking the assessment was 60 percent, seven percentage points lower than 2006. Likewise, the percentage of OPRF seniors who reported marijuana use within the past 30 days was 35 percent, six percentage points lower than in 2006.

However, those numbers are still markedly higher than the 37 percent of OPRF sophomores who reported using alcohol within the past 30 days. In addition, the percentage of students in Cook County who reported using alcohol in the past 30 days went from a little less than 60 percent in 2006 to about 50 percent in 2012 (comparative figures for 2014 haven't been made available yet).

 The percentage of OPRF students who used marijuana in the past 30 days was 35 percent. In suburban Cook County, the student average hasn't gone above 30 percent since 2006 (barring 2014 data).

Bullock believes that sharing this information with students, parents, faculty and staff members alike – treating everyone maturely across the board – is one of the keys to lowering the unusually high usage rates among students at OPRF.

A mixed crowd of about 35 people, including students (many of whom were members of the organization Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD), Oak Park police officers, OPRF principal Nathaniel Rouse, administrative staff and the members of IMPACT (Parents and Community Together to Reduce Youth Drug and Alcohol Use), processed Bullock's presentation.

The gathering was part of IMPACT's weeklong commemoration of National Drug Facts Week, which was Jan. 25-31.

One of the major takeaways of that PowerPoint, many of the attendees indicated, was the fact that, although substance use seems more prevalent at OPRF than at some other area schools in suburban Cook County, most students aren't using and even less are abusing.

For Anna Schaider, an IMPACT board member, that point should be stressed, since the perception among many students is that 'everyone is doing it.'

"The majority of the school is not drinking or using drugs," said Schaider, who was on hand with Susie Bohun, IMPACT's program director, to present the IYS data at the Jan. 29 board meeting.

"The perception you have of your peers really influences use," Schaider said.

But Bullock also emphasized that for drug prevention to be effective, the message of non-usage also has to be complemented by reasons and tools to say no.

"The how of not using comes in students' collective support of each other," Bullock said.

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Robert Zeh from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: February 14th, 2015 8:59 AM

@Keith, I'm focusing on the tool because it makes promises that don't hold up. The parental FAQ says that "There is no possibility that any agency will be able to link your child's responses to your child or household." This is just not true; there is enough information on the survey to uniquely identify a child. If the survey makers can get something like this wrong, what else did they get wrong? I believe our high schoolers are intelligent enough to realize that the survey is not anonymous, and that this biases their responses.

Keith Bullock from Oak Park  

Posted: February 10th, 2015 11:16 PM

The anonymous IYS surveys are sealed upon completion and sent to U of I who runs the analysis and returns aggregate data. They are not reviewed by individual schools. IYS is modeled after the national, respected Monitoring the Future survey from the U of Michigan which helps support the reliability/validity of the IYS. The IYS is a tool to assess community adolescent perception and behavior. My hope would be that we not focus on the tool alone, but on what we are doing about what it tells us.

Robert Zeh from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: February 6th, 2015 6:46 PM

@SB, thank you for posting the information on the survey. After going through it. Two problems with it pop right out. First, if I, a 44 year old teetotaler who doesn't even know where to buy drugs can easily spot the control drug ("nazuphan") the students can too. Second, if by Senior year our students think they will be anonymous after filling in their zip code, age, grade, height, weight, gender, ethnicity, parental status, bucketed number of days absent, bucketed GPA, school activities, and part time work status, then we've failed to teach them critical thinking skills.

SB from Oak Park   

Posted: February 6th, 2015 8:11 AM

In regards to the question of validity and over reporting, I would just like to add that the Illinois Youth Survey is owned and administered by U of I Center for Research Prevention and Development. On their website you can see answers to the questions of validity. They receive large sample sizes and put control questions in the survey to tease out over reporting. No survey is perfect, however, this is one that is consistently monitored to ensure communities can use the data for planning.

OP Transplant  

Posted: February 4th, 2015 2:06 PM

Another interpretation: Drug and alcohol use is so glamorized in our community that students feel compelled to overreport their own use. So, maybe they're substance abusers, maybe they're liars, or maybe they feel social pressure to pretend to be substance abusers. Any way you look at it, the survey has some unfortunate results. Good to see numbers going down, though!

By Any Meanz from Oak Park  

Posted: February 4th, 2015 1:23 PM

Then we can arrive at one of two conclusions: Either the survey is accurate and Oak Park students use drugs at a higher rate than their fellow suburbanites, or they simply lie more. Neither is very impressive.


Posted: February 4th, 2015 12:49 PM

Many OPRFHS students use the drug alcohol survey as a creative writing assignment. I'm not sure much truth is gleaned from it.

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