School kids in the central Kenai Peninsula don’t think it’s hard to get drugs and alcohol, and don’t think they’ll get in trouble with the law if they drink or smoke pot.
Those are some of the findings of the student survey conducted in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades throughout central Kenai Peninsula schools in February.
Of 1,861 students enrolled in central peninsula schools, 764 participated in the survey.
Called the Prevention Needs Assessment, the youth survey was sponsored by the Community Action Coalition and administered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
The survey showed the majority of high school students 10th and 12th grades do not perceive much difficulty in accessing cigarettes, marijuana or alcohol.
Students in all grades said it is easier to get alcohol than cigarettes.
About 80 percent of 12th-graders surveyed said alcohol is “very easy” or “sort of easy” to access; 75 percent of 10th-graders said the same; slightly more than half the eight-graders agreed; and about 25 percent of sixth-graders felt that way.
Cigarette accessibility was said to be easy by 75 percent of 10th- and 12-graders; just over 40 percent of eighth-graders; and about 25 percent of sixth-graders.
Of the 747 students who took the survey, the largest number 297 were sixth-graders; 174 were in eighth grade; 159 were high school sophomores; and 117 were seniors.
Nearly every student who said cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs were readily available, said it was as easy to get pot as it was to get cigarettes. Only sixth-graders thought marijuana was harder to come by.
An interpretive statement by the coalition said, “The good news is that less than 20 percent of the students in our survey reported other drugs including cocaine, stimulants and sedatives as easy to get.”
Protective factors as well as risk factors affecting central Kenai Peninsula youth were looked at by the survey.
One such protective factor is community attachment.
Between 77 and 79 percent of those surveyed said they like their neighborhood and between 68 and 73 percent said they would miss their neighborhood if they moved.
In an attempt to measure kids’ perception of the strictness of laws regarding substance use, students were asked if police would likely catch a kid using marijuana and alcohol.
Fifty-five percent of sixth-graders said they believe police would catch a kid using marijuana, and 43 percent said police would catch a kid using alcohol.
The belief that kids will get caught drops significantly as the ages of the respondents goes up.
Thirty-six percent of eighth-graders believe kids would get caught by police if kids use marijuana; 23 percent believe police would catch a kid for using alcohol.
Sixteen percent of 10th-graders believe police would catch a kid using marijuana; only 8 percent believe police would catch a kid drinking.
In 12th grade, the percentages level off: 13 percent believe police would catch a kid using pot; 14 percent believe alcohol drinkers would be caught.
Asked how old they were when they first tried alcohol, 63 percent of sixth-graders said they had not tried alcohol; 36 percent said they tried it before reaching 13 years of age.
Among eighth-graders, 46 percent said they had not tried alcohol; 35 percent said they tried it before reaching 13 years; 19 percent said their first sip came after 13 years.
Thirty-nine percent of 10th-graders said they had never tried alcohol; 18 percent said they had their first taste before reaching 13; and 43 percent said they did not drink until they were older than 13.
Sixty percent of high school seniors said they were older than 13 before trying alcohol; 16 percent said they had their first sip before reaching 13 years; and 24 percent said they had not tried alcohol.
Results were considerably different when asked when they first smoked pot.
The numbers of those who never tried marijuana were 95 percent of sixth-graders, 82 percent of eighth-graders, 69 percent of 10th-graders and 51 percent of 12th-graders.
Of those who did try marijuana, most waited until after age 13: 9 percent of eighth-graders, 22 percent of 10th-graders and 41 percent of 12th-graders.
When asked if they have “lots of adults in the neighborhood to talk to,” half of the sixth-graders said they do; 44 percent of eighth-graders agreed; and 29 percent of both 10th- and 12th-graders said they do.
The Community Action Coalition believes the profile of survey results “provides one way to look at how we are doing, with a particular focus on youth, and identifying those areas in (the) central peninsula that need our attention.”
Besides alcohol and drug use, the survey also looked at incidences of violence in Kenai Peninsula schools.
During a group focus discussion last week, coalition member Jon Walters, pastor of Kenai United Methodist Church of the New Covenant, said Donna Peterson, Kenai Peninsula Borough schools superintendent, has said families are moving to the Kenai Peninsula from Anchorage, just to get their kids into central peninsula high schools.
The coalition plans to sponsor a second Prevention Needs Assessment youth survey next fall.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@ peninsulaclarion.com.
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