By Mahoney, Diana
Clinical Psychiatry News , Vol. 38, No. 9
More than one-quarter of the nation's school students say drugs and gangs are rampant in their middle and high schools, and almost half report that they are aware of drugs being sold or used on school grounds, a Columbia University report shows.
The 15th annual "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Adolescents and Parents," conducted by the university's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), found that 5.7 million (27%) of the country's 12- to 17-year-old public school students attend schools where drugs are used, kept, or sold and where gangs are present.
The study also found that 32% of middle school students specifically said drugs are used, kept, or sold at their school--which represents a 39% increase since last year, when 23% of middle school students repotted their schools to be "drug infected." It also found that about 66% of high school students reported attending drug-infected schools, which represents a slight but steady rise since 2006.
Gang activity, which was included in the survey for the first time this year, appears to be an important marker of drug activity. Compared with their counterparts, adolescents in schools with gangs were nearly twice as likely to report that drugs are used, kept, or sold on school grounds (30% vs. 58%), according to the report (www.casacolumbia.org/templates/publications_reports.aspx).
"These data are particularly troubling," Dr. Mark S. Gold said in an interview when asked about the CASA report. "It is difficult enough to learn and compete in this global economy without having drugs on school grounds, gangs, and likely sales and use in schools," said Dr. Gold, the Donald R. Dizney Eminent Scholar and Distinguished Professor at the McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida, Gainesville. "Experts across the United States who evaluate and treat adolescents are rapidly developing programs for dual disorders and drug problems to keep up with the ominous calls from parents and children."
The study found a wide gap between drug and gang presence reported at public schools vs. private and religious schools. Fifty-seven percent of adolescents at public schools and 22% at private or religious schools reporting drug activity at their schools, and 46% of adolescents in public schools and 2% in private or religious schools reporting gang presence. "The gap between drug-free public schools, and drug-free private and religious schools has nearly doubled since its narrowest point in 2001," they wrote.
These findings portend "a trajectory to tragedy for millions of children and families," Joseph A. Califano Jr. wrote in a statement accompanying the 2010 report. The CASA founder and chairman called the combination of gangs and drugs in school a "malignant cancer."
For example, compared with 12- to 17-year-olds at drug- and gang-free schools, those reporting drugs and gangs at their school were nearly 12 times more likely to have used tobacco (23% vs. 2%), 3 times more likely to have used alcohol (39% vs. 12%), and 5 times more likely to have used marijuana (21% vs. 4%), according to the report. Importantly, the associations between tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use, and indicators of gangs and drugs in school remained significant and meaningful in logistic regression analyses controlling for socioeconomic status, the authors wrote.
The potential social impact of attending a school with gang and drug activity also was assessed. Relative to adolescents in drug- and gang-free schools, adolescents in gang- and drug-infected schools were nearly three times more likely to have friends who drink alcohol regularly (62% vs. …