Big Island student drug use outpaces rest of state

HILO — The number of Big Island middle and high school students who report using drugs and alcohol is higher than state averages, according to new statistics from the 2017 Hawaii Youth Risk Behaviors Hawaii School Health Survey.

According to the state Department of Education, more than 16,300 public middle and high school students across the state participated in the survey, a joint project of the DOE, state Department of Health and the University of Hawaii.

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The anonymous survey, which is administered every other year, looks at a number of health-risk behaviors including mental health, injuries and violence, sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use and physical activity.

DOH school health coordinator Jennifer Ryan said information collected through the surveys in Hawaii can be compared to students across the nation, which is “really helpful for us to gauge areas that we’re doing well and areas that need improvement.”

The survey data can be used for a lot of different purposes, such as developing legislation, she said.

“It’s sometimes helpful to have local data to identify priorities where we’re doing well and where students might need some additional support.”

On the Big Island, Ryan said there were 1,517 surveys taken at 10 high schools, while there were 1,605 participants at 13 middle schools.

Among the high school survey results:

• 58.7 percent of Hawaii County high school students surveyed said they had ever drank alcohol, compared to the statewide rate of 49 percent and the 2015 rate of 58 percent;

• 32.1 percent had at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days (24.5 percent statewide) and 16.3 percent reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, (12.6 percent statewide);

• 41.6 percent had ever used marijuana (31.1 percent statewide) and 24.1 percent used marijuana in the past 30 days (18.1 percent statewide);

• 7.5 percent had used any form of cocaine (7.1 percent statewide), 7.2 percent had used ecstasy (6 percent statewide), 10.9 percent had used hallucinogenic drugs (7.6 percent statewide), 6 percent said they had used heroin (4.5 percent statewide), 5.7 percent used methamphetamines (4.8 percent statewide), 8.7 percent had used synthetic marijuana (6.3 percent statewide) and 3.5 percent have used a needle to inject any illegal drug (2.8 percent statewide).

At the middle school level in Hawaii County:

• 31.2 percent admitted to ever drinking alcohol, compared to 29.5 percent in 2015 (23.5 percent statewide);

• 17.6 percent said they had used marijuana, compared to 14 percent two years prior (11.9 percent statewide); and

• 4 percent had used any form of cocaine (3.3 percent statewide), 1.8 percent used Ecstasy (1.5 percent statewide), 2.6 percent had used methamphetamines 2.1 percent statewide), and 8 percent had ever used a needle to inject illegal drugs (7.1 percent statewide).

The number of Big Island high school students who have ever tried cigarettes is down to 25.8 percent from 27.2 percent in 2015. Just 1.1 percent reported smoking cigarettes daily.

However, 49.6 percent of those surveyed on the Big Island reported ever using an electronic vapor product, compared to 42.3 percent statewide.

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The number of Big Island middle school students who had ever tried cigarettes remained nearly steady at 16.7 percent, however, 35.8 percent of students surveyed said they had ever used an electronic vapor product, compared to 28.4 percent in 2015 (27 percent statewide), and 23 percent said they had used such a product in the past 30 days, compared to 15.7 percent two years prior and statewide.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.