- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Parents in St. Mary’s County and other parts of Southern Maryland have continued to meet since two youth drug summits were held earlier this year, according to DeForest Rathbone, a parent and grandfather who has been active in looking for solutions to curb addiction among students.
“All of them are telling the same story,” he said. It’s one of frustration when their children start taking drugs, and the difficulty of trying to get youth sober and clean.
“Private programs are costly and public programs are overwhelmed,” Rathbone said recently. “It’s a big dilemma and I think that’s going to continue on indefinitely because of the number of kids in the pipeline who’ve already been exposed to drugs.”
Activists like Rathbone, along with community health and school leaders, are looking at data, recently released from the Centers for Disease Control, that offer some clues about what risks Maryland youth are experiencing — everything from getting enough physical activity, eating breakfast in the morning, to being raped or having drugs offered to them in school.
According to the 2013 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, only 16.9 percent of Maryland high schoolers questioned said they were currently using tobacco, compared to 22.4 percent nationwide. But Marylanders in that age group reported using a list of other drugs at higher percentages than their peers across the country.
Twenty-nine percent of Maryland high school students surveyed said they were offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school property, compared to 22 percent nationwide. Five percent of Maryland high schoolers said they had used heroin, compared to 2 percent in the United States. And, 8.3 percent said they’d used ecstasy compared to 6.6 percent nationwide.
Five percent of Maryland high schoolers said they’d taken methamphetamines and steroids, compared to 3 percent across the United States. And, 10 percent of Maryland high school students sniffed glue, aerosol cans, paints and more to get high compared to 9 percent of their peers nationwide.
Based on the data, some wonder if impaired judgment about drugs is leading to impaired judgment about sexual choices. Nearly 7 percent of Maryland youth reported having intercourse before age 13, compared to about 6 percent nationwide. Ten percent, compared to 7 percent nationwide, said they’d been physically forced into sex. And nearly 12 percent of Maryland high schoolers surveyed, compared to about 10 percent nationwide, said they’d experienced sexual dating violence.
Safety also was a concern, with about 9 percent of Marylanders saying they felt unsafe at school, compared to 7 percent nationwide. And, 14.3 percent of Maryland students said they’d been in a physical fight on school property, compared to 8 percent in the United States. Just over 9 percent of Maryland high schoolers, compared to about 7 percent nationwide, said they’d been injured by a weapon, or threatened with one on school property.
“I think a lot of parents might be shocked or surprised to see that’s what the kids report,” said Gary Lynch, chief operating officer at Walden, a drug treatment and counseling facility in St. Mary’s County.
“In the treatment world, I shouldn’t say we weren’t surprised. But we’ve seen this among young adults,” Lynch said. “I think it did bring home the need for us to make sure we’re doing everything we can.
“You always want to take data seriously,” Lynch said. “In some ways, it offers a chance for community dialogue.”
Rathbone said parents with children addicted to drugs plan to continue meeting. “We can prevent new ones from coming into the pipeline, from becoming addicts, and dead.”
About 17 percent of youth nationwide also reported seriously considering suicide, and about 14 percent said they’d made plans for carrying it out, according to the CDC report. Maryland figures were about 1 percentage point lower than the national average.
“Something’s gotta change. It’s gotta change fast and it’s gotta change big,” Rathbone said.