Online survey aims to combat illegal drinking, drug use by Portland students

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PORTLAND — Portland residents are being asked to fill out an online questionnaire about their perceptions of alcohol use by students.

The survey, which closes on Dec. 4, is being administered by 21 Reasons, a nonprofit that brings together school administrators, parents, policy makers, law enforcement other community groups to fight under-aged drinking. 

21 Reasons Coordinator Jo Morrissey said the information gleaned from the survey will be used to help the organization draft a new five-year plan that seeks to create an environment where kids feel comfortable saying no to alcohol and illegal substances.

“We have reached our 2010 goals and now we’re re-evaluating where we are in the community to find out whether we should still be attaining those goals or if there are other issues out there,” Morrissey said. 

The survey consists of 15 questions, some of which probe areas beyond substance abuse. In addition to demographic information, respondents are asked to choose from a list of issues that concern them most in Portland, from academic failure, burglary and car crashes to violence, sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. 

The survey, however, mostly seeks to gauge perceptions about youth access to substances. It questions whether residents think under-aged drinkers and illegal drug users, along with their suppliers, think they will ever get caught and punished. 

Morrissey said the goal of the survey is not only to create an action plan to deal with specific issues, but to create an environment that allows students to take a stand against peer pressure. 

“Giving kids those clear boundaries to operate in, even though they seem to hate it at the time, gives them a safety net to operate in,” she said. 

Common strategies for reducing the likelihood of children drinking alcohol include locking up alcohol at home, getting to know a child’s friends and parents, and setting up clear rules and consequences for when those rules are broken. Morrissey said that simply waiting up for you child to come home at night and giving them a hug can be the most effective deterrent.

“One of the best protective factors a kid have is knowing they are going to have to face you when they come home, especially if they have to give you a hug,” she said, because close contact allows parents to smell alcohol and cigarette smoke. 

Morrissey said a similar process was used in 2004 to draft the present action plan, which sets targets through next year. Although there are several months to go in the school year, early signs indicate the plan has met many of its goals. According to a follow-up survey in 2008, students are finding alcohol harder to get and more parents believe they can influence their child’s behavior when it comes to under-aged drinking.

A state survey in 2008 showed the percentage of sixth through 12th-graders who reported drinking in the previous 60 days dropped 19 percent from the 2004 baseline year, from 36 to 29.2 percent. Students who reported drinking within two weeks fell by 15 percent, while marijuana and cigarette use dropped by 26 and 31 percent, from 19.6 to 14. 5 percent and 14.7 to 10.1 percent, respectively. 

Meanwhile, 39.2 percent of 11th graders and 33.7 percent of 12th graders said alcohol was either “hard” or “very hard” to find, increases of 46 and 30 percent. Nearly 80 percent of parents said there were no circumstances where it was OK for their child to drink, a 10 percent increase, 55 percent said they can influence whether their child drinks, an 40 percent increase, and nearly 54 percent of parents said they strongly disagree that it was not their job to prevent their children from drinking, and 130 percent increase. 

Those survey results, along with separate efforts of city officials to make bars and convenience stores more accountable for selling to under-aged kids, prove the program is on the rights track, Morrissey said. However, effective action plans cannot be drafted if the community does not take an active role. 

“We really want to hear from the public about what their concerns are,” she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or