Local officers note teen drug, alcohol use similar to statewide findings

Teen use of alcohol and marijuana, as well as fighting, is on the decline in Alaska, according to a survey.


Local law enforcement agencies see a decrease on Kenai Peninsula as well and continue to work to keep those numbers down with education and community resources.

The State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services recently released the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The survey is a part of the epidemiological surveillance system that was established in 1990 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The purpose of the survey is to help monitor the prevalence of behaviors that put Alaskan youth at risk for the most significant health and social problems that can occur during adolescent and adulthood, in order to assist in prevention and intervention planning and evaluation.

The survey has been administered in Alaska in 1995, 1999 ­— excluding Anchorage — 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

The 2013 survey reports a statistically significant decrease in alcohol and drug use among Alaska youth during the past ten years — meaning the change is unlikely to be due to chance.

■ 22.5 percent of high school students had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days; compared to 28.6 percent in 2011, 39.7 percent in 2007 and 38.7 percent in 2003.

■ 19.7 percent of high school students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days; compared to 21.2 percent in 2011, 20.5 percent in 2007 and 23.9 percent in 2003.

■ 22.7 percent of high school students had been in a physical fight during the past year; compared to 23.7 percent in 2011, 29.2 percent in 2007 and 27.1 percent in 2003.

■ 20.7 percent reported having been bullied on school property in the past 12 months, compared to 23.0 percent in 2011. This question was first asked in 2009.

Kenai Police Officer Alexander Prins also works as Kenai’s School Resource officer. He has an office at, and spends much of his time in Kenai Central High School as it is the largest school population on the Peninsula.

He said he believes drug use and violence outside of school in Kenai is consistent with the survey.

“We usually have a handful of drug and alcohol cases occurring in the schools,” he said. “There are occasionally fights at schools with almost all of them being handled administratively with school officials.”

Prins said he has seen alcohol, marijuana, spice, prescription pills and over-the-counter pills in Kenai schools.

He said aside from his office at KCHS, he also visits Kenai Alternative, Kenai Middle and the elementary schools. He teaches drug and alcohol classes, internet safety, a radar science class, Drug Abuse Resistance Education and other legal related topics.

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan, who has served 12 years with the department, also has also seen a decrease in drug, alcohol and tobacco use among Soldotna teens, concurrent to the statewide decrease.

He credits part of that decline to, DARE, a nationwide program that teaches students decision-making skills and to resist alcohol, drugs and violence. This will be Brennan’s third year teaching DARE to Soldotna fifth graders.

He said during the 10-week program, which he teaches in the spring, he spends about two weeks teaching the classes about the effects of drugs and alcohol. The rest of the time, the students work through scenarios where students have to make decisions and realize what the consequences of certain decisions are.

“The most important thing is to remember, if they do make that bad choice, remember how they felt, what the consequences were,” Brennan said. “So that hopefully, if they face something similar, that they won’t make the same mistake again.”

Brennan also teaches alcohol education in seventh and ninth grade health classes.

Those classes learn about the negative results of alcohol and how it impairs judgment and decision-making skills. In the middle school class, students, while wearing goggles that simulate various levels of intoxication, try to dribble a basketball, walk through a series of cones and try to make a basket. Brennan also has the students try to walk in a straight line to show them how “hard it is just to do basic things when you are impaired,” he said.

The high school class also uses the goggles, but older students get to experience what it’s like to try to drive under the influence. Cones are set up in a parking lot, and students try to drive a go-kart through the course while wearing the goggles. Brennan said an officer or teacher rides in the passenger seat of the go-kart to stop the engine, if needed.

“It seems to have a real impact on the kids when they try to go through the course with the goggles on, and they can’t negotiate a turn and they’re running over cones and things like that,” Brennan said.

Even with the education provided and the overall decrease, some students still use drugs and alcohol. Soldotna Police busted a teen drinking party on Oct. 26 at a Marydale Avenue residence. According to a police report, four 14 year olds and one 17 year old were issued minors for consuming alcohol.

Brennan said in the last five years the police department has seen an increase in teens drinking alcoholic energy drinks. He said many people don’t realize one of those drinks is the equivalent of about five beers.

“It’s pretty easy, especially for someone who’s going to like something that’s sweeter tasting, to drink three or four of them, and then (after) four of them, you basically have a case of beer,” Brennan said.

He said the drug of choice for teens is usually marijuana followed by prescription medications and then heroin, previously it was methamphetamine.

DARE is taught in Kenai by Kenai Police officers, and Alaska State Troopers teach the program at outlying schools.

Brennan said, officers teach DARE to students before they enter middle school because students are most likely to try drugs or alcohol when they’re 14 or 15 years old.

“We’re not talking heavy users or anything like that, but that’s where they’re really impressionable and starting to make those decisions,” Brennan said.

Sara J. Hardan can be reached at sara.hardan@peninsulaclarion.com.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com