Substance use at 10-year lows at OPRF, according to survey

Students smoking fewer cigarettes, drinking less alcohol than in the past

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The percentages of sophomores and seniors at Oak Park and River Forest High School who report that they've used substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants and marijuana either within the past month or the past year are at 10-year lows. 

But the usage rates of certain drugs among some of those students still surpasses state averages.

District 200 officials presented the results of the Illinois Youth Survey — which is administered every two years to grade school students and to high school sophomores and seniors throughout the state — at a Sept. 22 committee of the whole meeting.

The 2016 IYS results are based on voluntary responses to a range of questions involving substance abuse and other social and emotional issues by 676 sophomores and 453 seniors. That's a 71 percent participation rate for students in those two grade levels.

Participation in the IYS by sophomores, 85 percent of whom took the survey, was much higher than that by seniors, 57 percent of whom took it. In addition, the reduction in self-reported substance abuse use was much sharper among sophomores than seniors. 

Forty-eight percent of OPRF sophomores who took the 2016 IYS admitted to using any substance within the past year, including alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants and marijuana — a more than 12-percent reduction from 2012 and 2014. For seniors, the decrease in the number of students admitting to using any substance was much less dramatic, ranging from 75 percent in 2016 to 78 percent in 2012. 

The percentage of OPRF sophomores and seniors who reported being drunk or high at school at least once within the past year dropped sharply. For seniors, that data point dropped from a high of 25 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2016. For sophomores, it dropped from a high of 23 percent in 2006 to 7 percent in 2016. This year's numbers, unlike those in the past, are more in line with Cook County averages. 

The data for students admitting to using individual substances within the past year extends back to 2006 and also points to much sharper reductions in substance use among sophomores than among seniors. 

Between 2006 and 2016, the percentage of OPRF sophomores who reported using alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana has steadily decreased from 55 percent to 45 percent, 27 percent to 2 percent and 42 percent to 28 percent, respectively. 

Those students who reported using inhalants has always been low, ranging from a high of 5 percent in 2010 to a low of 2 percent from 2012 to 2016. 

Between 2006 and 2016, the percentage of OPRF seniors who took the IYS and admitted to using alcohol and cigarettes with the past year dropped from 79 percent to 72 percent and 41 percent to 12 percent, respectively. 

Those who admitted to using marijuana within the past year, however, has risen among seniors over the last decade—from a low of 48 percent in 2008 to a high of 56 percent in 2016. 

Despite the declines in reported substance abuse among OPRF sophomores, the reporting percentage of seniors who admitted to using alcohol and marijuana within the past year was 10 percent and 17 percent higher, respectively, than the 2014 state averages.

At the Sept. 22 meeting, district officials reinforced the survey's findings, suggesting that higher rates of marijuana usage were related to perceived norms. For instance, 58 percent of students reported that their peers perceive marijuana use as either "just a little bit wrong" or "not wrong at all." 

District officials said that a number of school-wide substance abuse prevention and wellness programs will be rolled out this school year, including a campus-wide marketing campaign that will include circulating various anti-drug media materials, such as newsletters and posters, throughout campus every three weeks. 


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