Survey finds alcohol use, depression among Iron County teens

CRYSTAL FALLS — A recent survey of Iron County middle and high school students found low usage of hard drugs such as methamphetamine, opioids and cocaine but above-national-average rates of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use.

Reports of depression and anxiety symptoms also were above the national average, according to the survey.

Iron County’s Communities That Care group in December polled students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades at the Forest Park and West Iron County school districts. The participation rate was about 80 percent, with 296 students completing surveys.

Paul Cleath and Jon Wierda of CTC presented the results to the Iron County Board on Tuesday. 

“We have a lot of work to do when compared to the national average, but we have hope,” Cleath said.

CTC will use the data to make more presentations at school and municipal meetings in the coming weeks, seek input from the community, inventory existing programs offered for youth in Iron County and attempt to secure funding for additional programs.

Positive information coming from the survey

shows students report high levels of social skills and views of school activities — meaning most are satisfied with activities provided through their school, sports, library or church — and low levels of rebelliousness and hard drug use.

One student reported using methamphetamine, five indicated opioid use and two used cocaine, Wierda said.

But the numbers were far greater for what Cleath referred to as “gateway drugs:” alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. Some influencing factors students cited in the survey included community and parent acceptance of substance use, students’ low perceived risk of drug use, low commitment to school, family management problems, positive attention for antisocial behavior and interaction with antisocial peers, Cleath said.

Students reported they tend to start using alcohol, marijuana and tobacco between ages 13 and 14, meaning prevention programs should be focused between sixth and eighth grades, Wierda said.

Education is key, he added, since a majority of students — half of sixth-graders, 78 percent of eighth-graders, 66 percent of 10th-graders and 71 percent of 12th-graders — believed there is little to no risk of using drugs. 

Numbers on alcohol, marijuana and tobacco usage, as well as depressive symptoms, are listed below:

— Students who reported using alcohol in the past month: sixth grade, 3.9 percent; eighth grade, 20.8 percent; 10th grade, 43.7 percent; 12th grade, 50.8 percent. National averages are, respectively, 0 percent, 7.3 percent, 19.9 percent and 33.2 percent.

— Students who reported binge drinking, or consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a row, within the past two weeks: sixth grade, 2 percent; eighth grade, 11 percent; 10th grade, 20 percent; 12th grade, 26 percent. National averages are, respectively, 0 percent, 3.5 percent, 9.5 percent and 17 percent.

— Students who reported using marijuana in the past month: sixth grade, 1.3 percent; eighth grade, 5.7 percent; 10th grade, 21.1 percent; 12th grade, 27.3 percent. National averages are, respectively, 0 percent, 5.4 percent, 14 percent and 22.5 percent.

— Students who reported smoking tobacco in the past month: sixth grade, 0 percent; eighth grade, 2.8 percent; 10th grade, 7 percent; 12th grade, 16.7 percent. National averages are, respectively, 0 percent, 2.6 percent, 4.9 percent and 10.5 percent.

— Students who reported using smokeless tobacco in the past month: sixth grade, 0 percent; eighth grade, 4.3 percent; 10th grade, 11.3 percent; 12th grade, 13.6 percent. National averages are, respectively, 0 percent, 2.5 percent, 3.5 percent and 6.6 percent.

— Students who reported depressive symptoms: sixth grade, 42 percent; eighth grade, 57 percent; 10th grade, 59 percent; 12th grade, 50 percent. National averages are, respectively, 30 percent, 35 percent, 38 percent and 32 percent.

These students with depression or anxiety symptoms might be at higher risk of using drugs and alcohol, Wierda noted.

CTC hopes to do similar surveys every two years and compare information with other Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin counties. 

In a separate presentation to the county board Tuesday, Detective Lt. Tim Sholander of the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team touched on how his group helps curb drug problems in the community.

UPSET works with local law enforcement who know the area and its residents, Sholander said. They have focused on educating doctors who prescribe Suboxone, an opioid that presents one of UPSET’s “biggest challenges,” and notifying them of patients who sell their medication.

Even if people aren’t seeing a lot of UPSET drug arrests in Iron County, Sholander assured them the team still is working hard by arresting dealers in Menominee or the far western Upper Peninsula who may have been en route to sell drugs in Iron County.