Published in the September 27, 2017 edition


WAKEFIELD — Marijuana use among students in Wakefield schools has increased significantly over the past year, as has the rate of students vaping or using e-cigarettes. Those alarming statistics as well as the fact that bullying (both in school and online) has increased at the Galvin were revealed in the just released 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey was presented at last night’s School Committee meeting by town’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator Catherine Dhingra and the schools’ Director of Athletics, Health and Wellness Brendan Kent.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) has been administered to students at Wakefield Memorial High School and the Galvin Middle School in 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

The 2017 YRBS was administered in April 2017 to the WMHS student body (9-12) and the Galvin student body (7th and 8th grade only). The YRBS Survey was developed by the Centers for Disease Control. In 2017 it was also administered as a regional collaborative with the Middlesex League schools thanks to funding from the Lahey Clinic.

The survey highlighted a number of troubling trends, including the fact that vaping/e-cigarette use is rising at “alarming” rates both at WMHS & Galvin. Marijuana use has also increased “significantly” over the past year. Of particular concern is the fact that marijuana use while driving has also increased.

The number of youth reporting they have a trusted adult at WMHS has decreased, while Galvin bullying has increased, and is higher than Middlesex League overall.

At WMHS, tobacco use had been trending down since 2011, when 16 percent of students reported smoking all or part of a cigarette in the past 30 days, to just 6 percent in 2016. But that number moved up to 7.6 percent in 2017. Dhingra attributed part of that reversal to the fact that more kids using E-cigarettes or vaping are becoming addicted to nicotine.

In fact, the reported rate of past 30-day e-cigarette use at WMHS more than doubled in the past year, from 15.9 percent in 2016 to 34.6 percent in 2017. That number is also much higher than the 23.4 percent rate in the Middlesex League as a whole.

Forty-three percent (377 students) of WMHS students reported having used e-cigarettes as sometime in their lives.

Past 30-day marijuana use at WMHS also spiked in 2017 after showing a gradual drop since 2011. Thirty percent of WMHS students admitted to having used marijuana in the last 30 days, compared to 20 percent in 2016.

In 2017, 25.5 percent of WMHS students reported having driven after using marijuana, compared to 15.7 percent in the Middlesex league as a whole.

Dhingra attributed the increase in marijuana use in large part to the fact that Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, correlating with a drop in kids’ perception of the risk of harm from marijuana use. The percentage of WMHS students who viewed marijuana as harmful dropped from 61 percent in 2011, to 48 percent in 2016, to just 41.5 percent in 2017. Dhingra said that her colleagues in surrounding communities have reported seeing comparable trends.

There were also troubling numbers among 7th and 8th graders at the Galvin when it came to past 30-day e-cigarette use. In 2016, 5.2 percent of GMS students reported using e-cigarettes in the past month. But that number nearly doubled to 10.2 percent in 2017.

Tobacco use at the Galvin continued to drop, with just 0.6 percent of 7th and 8th graders reporting use of tobacco in the past 30 days, according to the 2017 numbers.

Reported marijuana use by local 7th and 8th graders increased from 1 percent in 2016 to 4 percent in 2017.

Past-30-day alcohol use reported by students at both WMHS (34.6 percent in 2017) and the Galvin (4.7 percent) has remained steady or has trended downward.

Students at WMHS reporting use of prescription pain relievers in the past 30 days has remained in the 2-3 percent range every year of the survey since 2011.

In 2017, 13 percent of WMHS students reported that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Four percent (32 students) said that they had attempted suicide in the past 12 months.

At the Galvin, 14 percent of 7th and 8th graders reported seriously considering suicide, while 3 percent said that they had actually attempted suicide in the past 12 months.

In 2017, 209 Galvin students (38 percent) stated they had been bullied on school property and 141 students (25.6 percent) stated they have been bulled electronically in the past few months.

Dhingra and Kent reviewed current strategies and goals for substance abuse prevention among local students.

Health class curriculum has been providing students with increased knowledge of risk of harm and refusal skills (7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade). Peer-to-peer e-cig/vaping presentations have been given in all 9th grade health classes by the Wake-Up Youth Action Team. Educational programs have been implemented to change norms of “everyone is doing it.” Parent Sports Orientation Nights, Coaches Trainings and Newsletters, Annual Health and Safety Guides and Annual Parent University programs have all included a substance abuse prevention component.

Goals for the next two years include increasing educational opportunities for 10th-12th grade students, implementing a school-based Substance Use Diversion Program and establishing a “Healthy and Safe Senior Week Committee” to address the “Prom House” tradition.

Dhingra and Kent also reviewed current and future measures for helping students deal with social/emotional health issues, including counseling and mental health screenings for students, and training programs for faculty and staff.