Clinton Township, Macomb TownshipJune 11, 2014
More Chippewa Valley students think marijuana is ‘safe,’ survey shows
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
MACOMB TOWNSHIP/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Overall drug and alcohol use among students in Chippewa Valley Schools is on its way down, according to a recent survey, but district officials are concerned about a trend showing greater student acceptance of marijuana.
Charlene McGunn, executive director of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, presented the results of the 2014 Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth (MiPHY) to the Board of Education on June 2. MiPHY is an anonymous, computer-based health survey conducted every two years with students in seventh, ninth and 11th grades. Within the district, the survey was taken by students at all four middle schools (Algonquin, Iroquois, Seneca and Wyandot) and all three high schools (Chippewa Valley, Dakota and Mohegan) in February.
Most of the numbers on this year’s survey were encouraging, McGunn said, but she was also disturbed by students’ changing perceptions of marijuana.
“There has been a substantial normalization of marijuana use, which is no surprise to school administration and school staff,” McGunn told the board. “It’s true here, and it’s true across the state and across the country. In other words, youth increasingly see marijuana use as safe, especially in states such as ours, where medical marijuana use has been approved. … Now, the concern is that once the perception in harm declines, an increase in youth use usually follows.”
As McGunn explained, this year’s MiPHY survey results indicated that only 64 percent of Chippewa Valley ninth-graders believe that marijuana is dangerous, while that figure dropped to just 42 percent for 11th-graders.
Board President Denise Aquino described these statistics as “troubling.” However, despite the increased normalization of marijuana, McGunn pointed out that students’ overall level of use has remained fairly stable over the last several years. On the 2014 survey, only 1 percent of Chippewa Valley seventh-graders reported using marijuana within the past 30 days, along with 9 percent of ninth-graders and 25 percent of 11th-graders.
McGunn noted that there was a slight increase at the 11th-grade level but that the coalition was expecting an even bigger jump, based on recent youth health studies and anecdotal evidence collected from nine focus groups held at Chippewa, Dakota and Mohegan.
“Our students tell us what we’re hearing from school districts everywhere,” she said. “Youth are saying things like, ‘Marijuana is safe. I study better with marijuana. I drive better when I smoke marijuana. Marijuana is a plant. Marijuana is medicine.’ So they’re really not comprehending the true dangers of this drug.”
“Regardless of what we think about medical marijuana, its pluses or its deficits, it still needs to be significantly explained to kids, because they just don’t get it,” McGunn continued. “I hear from school staff and administration all the time about how normalized marijuana use has become and how much these marijuana edibles are showing up at parties. … There is so much misinformation out there, so I think we’re poised to see an increase in marijuana use.”
According to the coalition, teens who use marijuana are four times more likely to report declining or failing grades as nonusers and are twice as likely to drop out of school. In addition, the coalition reports that marijuana causes short-term memory problems and can exacerbate depression, anxiety and mental health issues, while heavy use during teenage years can permanently lower intelligence by as much as eight IQ points. The coalition also indicates that the potency of marijuana has increased dramatically over the last 40 years, and one in six teens who use marijuana become addicted.
Elsewhere on this year’s MiPHY survey, Chippewa Valley students showed a decline in alcohol use, which McGunn stated is consistent with long-term trends across the district. The most significant drop occurred among ninth-graders, as only 12 percent reported consuming alcohol within the past 30 days, compared to 21 percent in 2008.
“That’s a very substantial decline, and we’re really pleased with that,” McGunn said. “We’d like to think that it’s the result of a lot of parent education on the part of the coalition.”
She added that just 33 percent of 11th-graders reported drinking alcohol on the survey, another major decline from 2008. Still, considering that 75 percent of students surveyed believe that alcohol is harmful to people’s health, the overall level of use is relatively high. This is because, as McGunn put it, “alcohol is still the primary drug of choice for adolescents.”
Other areas of the survey showed a decline in the number of Chippewa Valley students who reported smoking tobacco, with use among 11th-graders dropping from 18 percent to 12 percent. Students at all grade levels also saw tobacco as more dangerous than marijuana, which McGunn called “a real misperception.”
Prescription drug abuse appears to be on its way down, as well. The number of 11th-graders throughout the district who reported using prescription drugs decreased slightly, and the number of ninth-graders fell even more, with just 4 percent of students reporting use.
In a subsequent interview, McGunn pointed out that MiPHY has a margin of error of 4 to 5 percent. Although she admitted that some students may be tempted to lie on the survey for a variety of reasons, she said that Chippewa Valley’s drugs and alcohol statistics are typically consistent with those of neighboring school districts.
“The state builds validity questions right into the survey, and if the data looks really strange, we throw it out,” McGunn noted. “But because the survey is anonymous, and because alcohol, marijuana and other drugs have become so normalized these days, we find that most kids are very honest about their own usage. What might be surprising to some people is that the majority of students don’t regularly use drugs and alcohol.”
School Board Treasurer George Sobah believes that groups like the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families have contributed to these low numbers. The coalition — which was created in 1996 and is now the largest youth coalition in Macomb County — currently has 104 student members, 67 adult members and 38 community partners, all of whom are tasked with advancing its mission of preventing and reducing youth substance abuse.
“I think it’s important that we send a message to our students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, that we educate them on how these things can ruin people’s lives,” Sobah said. “To me, this all goes hand in hand with what we do in educating kids and serving the community. Keeping kids healthy inside and outside the classroom is part of our responsibility as a public school district.”
For more information, visit www.cvcoalition.org or call (586) 723-2360.