A survey of Watertown students found that some students are taking “hard” drugs, while rates of alcohol and marijuana remains steady and depression and even suicidal thoughts can start in middle school. However, fewer students are smoking.
Every two years the Watertown Youth Coalition (WYC) surveys students at Watertown High School and Watertown Middle School to find out what risky behaviors they are or are not participating in. The WYC is part of the Wayside Multi-Service Center.
The dozens of people who showed up for the Watertown Youth Coalition’s The Well Being of Watertown Youth Report event at the Watertown Library split into groups and tried to tackle some weighty subjects.
The survey included 539 students form the high school (73.3 percent of the school) and 480 middle schoolers (88.7 percent of WMS).
For all of the areas, people agreed that while the schools could do more, it is also very important for parents to get more involved and make sure they know what is happening in their children’s lives.
Prescription Drug and Other Illicit Drug Use
Use of “hard drugs” remains low, but is present at the high school. The survey found 7.1 percent of students had tried cocaine, 5.3 percent used heroin and 8.3 percent used an inhalant. Those numbers are slightly down from the 2012 survey. The lifetime use of illicit drugs has dropped at the middle school (14.3 percent in 2009 to 2.7 percent in 2014). When the drug use occurred stood out, with the highest use of heroin in ninth grade (8.1 percent) and one of the highest rates of prescription painkillers at that grade level (10.4 percent), just below the 11.6 percent junior year.
Prescription drug abuse, particularly opiates, has become a big concern for adults in Watertown and that extends to youth. The group looking at that area thought the town had moved in the right direction by making Narcan (an anti-overdose drug) easily available. They thought parents needed to know more about what drugs their children have been prescribed and how potentially dangerous painkillers can be. They should let parents know that an addiction to opiates can happen “anytime to anyone.”
Physical and Mental Health
Reports of depression and considering suicide remains pretty steady at the high school and rates at the middle school were even higher. At the middle school 15.2 percent of students seriously considered suicide, and 8.6 percent made a suicide plan. The survey found 14.4 percent of high school students had seriously considered suicide and 11.4 percent made a plan to commit suicide.
The survey looked at substance use by those feeling depressed and found the most common substances used were alcohol (54.7 percent), tobacco (42.2 percent) and marijuana (38.4 percent) The use of all substances were higher among those reporting being depressed. They were also higher for those reporting being bullied.
The two biggest “personal challenges” reported by students at the middle and high school were academic stress (85.7 percent at WHS, 85.5 percent at WMS) followed by body image (38.5 percent at WHS, 38.2 percent at WMS). At the middle school the third highest factor was peer pressure (19.9 percent) and at the high school it was “non-acceptance, intolerance bullying” (11.3 percent).
Depression and suicide is a concern in town, as with other communities in the area. They group looking at mental illness thought that students should learn that substance abuse can worsen depression. Youths should also learn about depression and mental illness because the group worry that some teens may think what they are going through is normal, but it might be mental illness. Reducing stress among students would help, and education about that there are different kinds of abuse – not just physical – is important. They also said parents should portray more positive body images.
Drinking rates have remained about even over the five surveys. In 2009 65.8 percent said they had consumed alcohol at least once, and in 2014 the rate was 58.9 percent. Binge drinking has dropped at WHS from 32.5 percent in 2009 to 21.9 percent in 2014. Lifetime drinking has dropped at the middle school from 29.3 percent in 2009 to 16.6 percent in 2014. The survey found the rate of drinking increased as students got older.
For alcohol use, the group suggested that parents be careful that they do not make booze easily accessible in the home, that education about the harmfulness of alcohol should start before high (as early as sixth grade), and teach students tips for dealing with there ups and downs so they do not seek to self-medicate with alcohol.
Like alcohol, use of marijuana remains steady at Watertown High School (40.8 percent lifetime use in ’09 and 41.5 percent in ’14). At the middle school, use is down after increasing to 12.4 percent lifetime use in 2010 and dropping to 5.6 percent in 2014. While few people use pot in the middle school, the use jumps from 3.2 percent current users in eighth grade to 23.5 percent in ninth grade and continues to rise to 39.3 percent by 12th grade.
The group looking at marijuana worried about the potential of legalizing marijuana use in Massachusetts. They also would encourage youths to go to their parents, and hoped that parents not condemn them for using marijuana but instead work with them to seek help. If caught in school, the group preferred and in-school suspension with drug education rather than sending them home.
Tobacco use dropped from 40.5 percent at the high school in 2009 to 21 percent in 2014. In the 2014 survey, 21 percent of Watertown students said they had ever smoked a cigarette and 13 percent said they are currently a smoker. Smoking also dropped at WMS, from 19.1 percent in 2009 to 5.2 percent in 2014
Tobacco use has been dropping, but students have reported an increase of used of flavored tobacco and vape products so the group wanted to see education focusing on hookah and flavored tobacco. The group also wanted to have more education aimed at students which discussed the hazards of smoking.
While there was no group discussing sexual behavior, the report found that the rate of sexual activity has dropped steadily. The rate of students at the high school reporting ever having intercourse dropped from 44.2 percent in 2009 to 34.7 in 2014. The 2014 survey found 5.3 percent of WHS students reported having sex before age 13, those who used a condom during their last intercourse was 62.6 percent, those who drank or used drugs before the last intercourse was 28 percent and the students reporting being taught about HIV/AIDS in school was 85 percent.