Study: North Fork teens drinking more than others

North Fork high school students are not only consuming more alcohol than most teenagers across the country, they’re also doing more binge drinking, a new survey has found.

The North Fork Alliance, a nonprofit community advocacy group in Greenport, conducted the area’s first comprehensive survey of teenage drug and alcohol abuse this fall. More than 1,270 students in grades 7 through 12 from the Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold and Greenport school districts volunteered to take the survey. That’s a participation rate of 82.5 percent.

The Prevention Needs Assessment Survey was developed, and the results tallied, by Bach Harrison, a Salt Lake City company that provides survey, research and evaluation services. It was published earlier this month.

[Scroll below to read the entire 2012 North Fork Prevention Needs Assessment Survey]

Laura Jens-Smith, the alliance’s program coordinator and a members of the Mattituck-Cutchogue school board, told The Suffolk Times last week that she believes the most startling discovery was the amount of underage binge drinking that’s occurring.

[Related: Administrators, parents react to survey]

According to the report, 53.5 percent of high school seniors surveyed in September said they’d consumed alcohol within the past 30 days. When asked if they’d consumed five or more alcoholic beverages in a row within the past two weeks, 35.5 percent answered “yes.” The 2011 national average for binge drinking among 12th-graders is 21.6 percent, the report states.

“The most disturbing statistic is we are higher than the national average for alcohol use,” Ms. Jens-Smith said of the study’s findings. “There’s a lot of binge drinking that’s going on.”

In addition to alcohol use, the survey asked students if they’d gotten behind the wheel after consuming alcohol within the 30-day time frame.

About 3 percent admitted to drinking and driving and nearly 18 percent said they’d been in a car with a drunk driver. Those stats are below the national average, which shows 9.4 percent of teens around the country admitting to drunk driving and 26.7 percent stating they’ve been in a car with a drunk driver.

As for drug and tobacco use within the 30-day time period, 14.9 percent of North Fork students surveyed admitted to using marijuana, 9.2 percent said they smoked cigarettes, 2.3 percent took sedatives, 0.6 percent used cocaine and 0.3 percent used heroin.

The survey’s findings highlighted the importance of early intervention and addressing risk factors. It also found a link indicating that parent or peer disapproval tends to reduce underage usage.

Ms. Jens-Smith said she believed the major causes of teen alcohol and drug use are a lack of activities for teenagers in the area and poor public transportation. Another factor is peer pressure.

“Kids need to be aware that there’s a lot of kids out there who aren’t drinking and that it’s socially acceptable to not drink,” she said. “That has to come from everybody in the community: the schools, parents, police and businesses.”

Over the past few months, the North Fork Alliance has created several initiatives to combat teen drug and alcohol abuse.

It recently launched an online network for parents called Safe Homes, which allows parents to unite by pledging “no use” of alcohol and drugs by minors in their home. Signing up with the network provides a platform for parents to communicate with each other about reported underage drug and alcohol abuse, Ms. Jens-Smith said.

“[Safe Homes] provides another set of eyes,” she said. “You’re basically saying to the other parents, ‘I know I can’t be everywhere and I’m letting you know it’s OK to give me a call if you saw my child drinking.’<\!q>”

Other projects include a media campaign through the alliance’s new Facebook page, NFA Teens, an “Above the Influence” student art contest, a prom and graduation safety talk and a medication take-back event this Saturday.

The North Fork Alliance also plans a second survey in two years to measure the impact of its efforts and aims to continue to raise awareness about the area’s current problem.

“It’s important for parents and everyone to be aware of these issues out here, from Mattituck all the way out to end of the island,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “As a community, we need to pay attention to it … We want people to contact us and get involved.”

[email protected]

Mattituck-Cutchogue UFSD Profile Report