Students’ alcohol, tobacco use high

Herald Staff Writer

High school students in southwestern Indiana have a higher rate of cigarette, smokeless tobacco and alcohol use than the state average, according to an annual survey conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University.

Officials at 418 schools in Indiana administered surveys to students in grades six through 12 this past spring. A total of 138,519 Hoosier students completed the survey that asked about their use of various drugs, how old they were when they first used the products, and risk and protective factors.

The resource center breaks the results down into regions. Dubois, Spencer and Pike counties are included in the southwest region.

The report states that of students in southwestern Indiana, “seventh- through 12th-grade students were more likely to report lifetime use of cigarettes and alcohol.” The resource center defines “lifetime” usage as having occurred at least once in a student’s life.

In 2012, 26 percent of high school seniors in southwest Indiana reported having used smokeless tobacco in their lifetimes, which exceeds the state average of 22.5 percent. Forty-one percent of southwest Indiana seniors responded that they drink alcohol monthly and 30 percent binge drink monthly, compared to 26 percent statewide. Almost 52 percent of area sophomores reported having used alcohol in their lifetimes.

However, the study also found that marijuana use among southwestern Indiana high-schoolers is less than in other areas of the state. Thirty-four percent of area seniors have used the drug in their lifetimes compared to an average of 38 percent statewide. Twenty-seven percent of local juniors reported having used marijuana before while the average use for juniors in the state is 33 percent.

“I think most people would agree there’s a real culture in this area for alcohol,” Heritage Hills High School guidance counselor Kathy Wilmes said. Wilmes brought the IU report to the North Spencer School Board earlier this week. She said the report shows a high prevalence of cigarette, cigar, smokeless tobacco, inhalant, alcohol and prescription drug use in the school corporation.

“I think sometimes people think, ‘Well, I’m not smoking. It’s OK that I’m using smokeless (tobacco),’” she said at the meeting.

Wilmes said that each year the survey results show a high number of high school students using tobacco products and binge drinking. The school corporation and other local districts use several programs to combat substance abuse by students.
“A lot of the programs involve mentoring, and I think we all know that mentoring is very important,” Wilmes said. “It’s not just all about ‘Don’t do drugs and don’t smoke,’ that kind of preaching, but it’s getting at more of the character, the support and helping each other out.”

North Spencer and all of the Dubois County school corporations operate chapters of Students Against Destructive Decisions and a Natural Helpers program run by Tri-Cap. “Natural helpers” are students selected by their peers to learn listening and advice-giving skills about issues including substance abuse. Those students then serve as mentors to other students throughout their high school careers.

Wilmes said the high school utilizes guest speakers, including pharmacists who speak to students about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. Law enforcement officers are always willing to make school visits, she said, and offenders in the community corrections systems also have come in to tell their stories as a warning to students.

“We do a lot of education in our freshman mentor program during the second semester of the course (and in) health class, and our SADD chapter gets involved as well,” Southridge High School guidance counselor Jenny Fowler said. The Southwest Dubois School Corp. had the highest rate in Dubois County of dropouts, expulsions and  suspensions due to alcohol or drug abuse during the 2009-10 school year, the last year for which data is available. Eight percent of students were disciplined or dropped out that year.

Fowler said the high school conducted drug screens of a random sampling of students this week.

Because of high rates of substance abuse in the area and in the corporation, the Greater Jasper School Board and Superintendent Tracy Lorey tasked Assistant Superintendent Bob Hacker with forming a substance abuse task force to help lower the rates of usage. Individual corporation results are not released by the resource center, and Greater Jasper plans to release its statistics at a public forum Nov. 5.
The task force consists of high school and middle school students, teachers, administrators, parents and community partners, including Southern Hills, Crisis Connection and the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council.

Hacker said the task force has met twice and has three other meetings planned. “We are looking at a number of new programs and also ways that we can improve or enhance the programs we currently have in place for our students,” he said. “This is a K-12 initiative where we are looking at curriculum needs, school discipline code realignment, counseling services, community partnerships and possible new programs.”

Contact Claire Moorman at

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