School board hears statistics of drug and alcohol use — and perceptions
By Mallie Jane Kim
Three Village students generally report drug use at or below state norms, except for alcohol, according to results of a 2022 student survey by New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports.
“Alcohol is the primary drug of choice above any other substance for adolescents in our district,” explained Alison Herrschaft, the district’s lead social worker and drug and alcohol counselor, as she presented the data at an Oct. 25 school board meeting. “It’s also the only category in our district where we exceeded the state level.”
Among the Class of 2022 seniors, 20% reported having at least one drink within the past 30 days, and about 18% reported binge drinking, or having five or more drinks at a time. That’s compared to 19% and 11% respectively, statewide.
Vaping was another area of concern, with 10% of seniors reporting having vaped within the past 30 days, compared to 13% across New York, and 12% reported using marijuana in any form, compared to 15% statewide.
Herrschaft also shared data related to student attitudes toward drug and alcohol use from the survey, which 1,750 seventh-through-12th-grade students completed 18 months ago, during physical education class. She warned that legalization and broader cultural acceptance of marijuana could lead to increased use among students.
“We’re always stressing to students that just because a substance is legal does not mean that it’s healthy for a developing brain,” she said.
There was no reported use of methamphetamines, heroin or cocaine within the district or statewide. But Herrschaft said that since the opioid epidemic is still affecting the 18-25 age group in New York state, “it’s critical that we ask these questions anyway, and continue to educate students on the risk of use.”
She added that this education includes making students aware that deadly fentanyl is cut into many illicit substances.
Erin Connolly, head of pupil personnel services, said the data collected was anonymous and should be helpful to the district in knowing where to focus future efforts of student and parent engagement. “The hope was that the results provided to us by the state would help to improve our community’s understanding of our students’ strengths and risk factors,” Connolly said.
Families are integral to efforts to combat substance abuse, according to the survey, as more than 70% of secondary students reported “family attachment” as a protective factor against drug use, and more than 60% reported “family rewards for prosocial involvement” as protective.
“Parent involvement is crucial to healthy decision-making,” Herrschaft said. “We know that in our district, parents are very involved in their students’ education and well-being.”
The district’s chair of secondary health and physical education, Christina Driscoll, shared current efforts in drug and alcohol abuse prevention, including a recent sixth-grade-wide presentation about the dangers of vaping at Ward Melville High School and a “sticker shock” campaign last spring, during which high school students submitted designs for anti-vaping or anti-underaged drinking stickers. Students applied stickers with the winning designs to products at Setauket Pastaria, Setauket Beer & Beverage and the 7-Eleven on Old Town Road, in conjunction with the business owners.
While the survey has historically been done every 10 years, the presenters indicated there are plans to conduct it again in spring 2024 for better comparative data.
Residents can watch the full survey presentation on the Three Village Central School District YouTube page, under live videos. The PowerPoint presentation with the highlighted statistics is available on the district’s BoardDocs website, linked within the agenda of the Oct. 25 meeting under OASAS.