NORTH READING – Use of various drugs and other substances fell from 2023 to 2024, according to information Drug Free Communities Grant director Amy Luckiewicz presented at the School Committee meeting June 17.

“This is the first year there’s been a decrease among all substances,” she said of the results of an April survey of middle and high school students tracking use in the previous 30 days. “What a difference a year has made,” she added, a reference to her disappointment in results from 2022 to 2023.

A total of 906 students took the optional anonymous eight-minute anonymous survey. Participation increased by more than 67% among 12th graders and 51.14% among 10th graders, although it dropped by 7.92% among 7th graders. Only 14 middle school students and two high school students opted out.

Luckiewicz said she is often asked if students lie on the survey. Her response is that students are more likely to lie about not using a substance than using it.

The use of tobacco or conventional cigarettes fell 5.6% while use of other substances fell by the following varying amounts across the board: vaping (4.8%), alcohol (4.7%), marijuana (3.3%) and recreational use of prescription drugs, often taken from a parent or grandparent ( 2.5%).

Within that data are mixed results of use dependent on how the data of increased use is correlated. In some cases there were increases in use at a grade level, but drops in use when tracking those students from one grade to the next. According to Luckiewicz’s presentation, “North Reading students use alcohol less than the national average, but use tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs more than the national average as they age.”

While substance use trended down compared to last year, the overall use of substances has increased 8.1% when compared to 2017 and 4.9% higher when compared to 2019 survey results.

During her presentation she showed the committee a vaping device designed to look like an orange highlighter enabling it to be carried in plain sight without detection.

Culpable adults

A possibly troubling data point is 33% of the 245 adults who responded to a 2023 parent survey reported that they had provided alcohol to minors and 31% reported they had used alcohol with minors. Additionally, 12% reported that they provided marijuana to minors and 14% reported that they had used marijuana with a minor. No such information is available for other substances because parents were asked about alcohol and marijuana, Luckiewicz explained. “We can’t ignore this,” she feels.

She also pointed to use of the sedative xylazine, nicotine pouches, gambling and social media as “trending concerns.” She reported xylazine, also known as “tranq,” is being mixed into heroin, fentanyl and other drugs. This effects of this non-opioid sedative cannot be reversed using Narcan.

Nicotine pouches are highly addictive and can be easily concealed because when discarded it looks like chewing gum in the trash. “It’s something we have to continue to educate people about,” she told the committee.

“Gambling is not related to substance use, but builds similar pathways in the brain that lead to addiction,” was another point highlighted in her presentation.

Luckiewicz also pointed out a fact attributed to the American Medical Association (2019) that “teens who spend three hours a day on social media double their risk of depression.” The percentage of North Reading students who reported that they have been “threatened or embarrassed by someone using social media or a cell phone to post mean messages or photos of them while at school this year” ranged from a low of 10% to a high of 25% among 6th to 12th graders. The totals were: 6th (17.2%), 7th (17.8%), 8th (25.1%), 9th (16.1%), 10th (10.1%), 11th (15.7%) and 12th (11.8%). Overall, middle schoolers (7.2%) and high schoolers (9.9%) admitted that they bullied someone else using social media.

Nicotine-Free Generation initiative

Luckiewicz also discussed an initiative underway in several communities to create a “nicotine-free generation,” under which a person’s ability to buy nicotine would be based not on their age, but on their date of birth. These communities are considering phasing out nicotine use by prohibiting sales of nicotine products to people born after a certain date regardless of their age, although she said she is aware how that could affect businesses negatively.