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Survey shows alcohol use down, vaping on the rise among Merrimack youth

Union Leader Correspondent

December 21. 2017 10:52PM
Buses line up at Merrimack High School in 2014. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/CORRESPONDENT FILE)

MERRIMACK — While alcohol use may be on the decline, local youth are now experimenting with electric vaping and are having more thoughts about suicide, according to a recent survey.

Results from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which was completed this past spring by 943 students at Merrimack High School, are being studied by school officials and representatives with Merrimack Safeguard.

Some of the trends are positive and others are alarming, according to Betsy Houde, executive director of The Youth Council and project director for Merrimack Safeguard.

In 2007, about 32 percent of ninth-grade students who took the survey reported that they had consumed an alcoholic drink within 30 days of taking the survey; that number has dropped to 12.7 percent in 2017.

“That is very significant in terms of the risky behavior kids are getting involved with,” Houde told the school board this week.

Surveying all high school grades this year, a total of 37.8 percent of the students said they had a drink in the past 30 days; in 2007 that number was closer to 50 percent.

Still, Houde said about 50 students reported that they rode in a car with someone who was drinking within the last month, and 304 students reported that they texted or emailed while driving during that same time frame.

“I still feel there is a lot more that parents and the community can really do for kids to help them make healthier choices,” she said.

One of her biggest concerns was that about 25 percent of the participants, or 281 students, reported that they used an electric vapor product in the last 30 days, and almost 36 percent of students said they tried a vaping device at least once.

Although prescription drug use is on the decline, Houde said the number of students per grade level using marijuana in the 30-day time frame is increasing.

The data is also revealing depression and mental health issues. The number of students who are feeling sad or hopeless for more than two weeks has jumped more than six percentage points since 2007, and students with suicidal thoughts is on the rise by about 5 percent, according to Houde.

The 100-question survey is not mandatory, and all students do have the choice to opt out of participating. Two years ago in Merrimack, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey also identified some depression and mental health problems.

Since then, a district-wide mental health committee has been formed and a separate initiative was developed to possibly implement a mental health component into the school district’s health and physical education curriculum.

“The suicide obviously does raise some concern,” said Michael Thompson, school board member. “It is alarming, but I hope that maybe the kids are able to talk about it a little more.”

Assistant Superintendent Mark McLaughlin said the survey helps the district draw a picture of the needs of the community, and provide some guidance.

Education Public Safety Merrimack

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