WESTERLY — Westerly High School and Westerly Middle School students exceeded statewide averages for use of alcohol and slightly exceeded or were even with the statewide average for marijuana use, according to results of a survey conducted last year.

Results of the Rhode Island Student Survey were presented to the School Committee Wednesday by staff members of the South County Prevention Coalition. According to the survey results, 16.1% of students surveyed at Westerly High School indicated they had used alcohol within the past 30 days of taking the survey as compared with the state average of 13.3 %. At the middle school, 6.9% of the students who took the survey reported using alcohol within 30 days of taking the survey, compared with 4.8 % of their peers across the state.

Heidi Driscoll, South County Prevention Coalition director, said results of the 2018 survey would serve as a baseline for the town since not enough students in Westerly completed the survey in 2016. At least 60 percent of students in each grade must take the survey in order for the results to be deemed valid, she said. A total of 22,294 students in Grades 6-12 across the state took the survey in 2018. In Westerly, 691 students in Grades 8-11 took the survey.

Of Westerly High School students surveyed, 15.3% reported having used marijuana within the past 30 days as compared with 15 percent of students statewide. At Westerly Middle School, 4.1% of students reported using marijuana, a rate that was even with their peers across the state. According to the survey 4.1% of Westerly High School reported using tobacco, compared with 2.7% of students statewide. At Westerly Middle School 1.4% of students reported using tobacco, compared with 1 % of students statewide.

On a question about the non-medical use of prescription medicines, 1.4% of Westerly High School students reported using within the past 30 days, less than the state average of  2.4%. At Westerly Middle School 3.2% of students reported having used a prescription medicine for a non-medical use, more than the state average of 1.6%.

The survey also looked at the use of electronic cigarettes: 8.9% of Westerly Middle School eighth grade students reported using the  devices, 16.9 % of Westerly High School ninth grade students, 16.8% of tenth graders and 30.6% of eleventh graders.

Driscoll said the coalition model the state started using about two years ago to replace the former substance abuse prevention task force approach, uses evidence-based approaches to prevention including information dissemination, education for students and families, promoting drug-free events for youth and adult leadership opportunities, community-based volunteer training, and problem identification.

The coalition's goals are to reduce youth alcohol, marijuana and prescription medicine abuse; provide increased support and advocacy for mental health treatment; and to enlist and implement a communitywide approach to substance use disorders.

"Most of the time when there's a substance use disorder there's a mental health issue," Driscoll said.

The survey also tried to gauge students' mental health. Of the Westerly students surveyed 14 percent said they had seriously considered attempting suicide.

Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, School Committee chairwoman, praised one of the coalitions offerings, the hidden in plain sight program, which teaches parents to identify drugs and paraphernalia.

The committee voted 6-0 to allow the coalition to conduct another survey in February and March. Committee members Chiaradio Bowdy, Mary Adams, Marianne Nardone, Tim Killam and Christine Piezzo voted. Committee member Christine Cooke did not attend the meeting.


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