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GREAT BARRINGTON -- The new coordinator for the Southern Berkshire Youth Coalition, with a revealing new survey about illegal substance use and sexuality among South County teens, wants area parents and other adults to step up to help prevent risky behavior in youth.
Carla Stein Duby, a former police officer and substance abuse counselor, and Sheela Siegel, program coordinator for the youth coalition, are formulating plans for a communitywide event they hope will attract anyone concerned about risky behavior among teens and young adults.
"You'd think parents would want to know, but many just don't want to know," said Duby yesterday. "Many people are just too busy."
As a former legal advocate for the Elizabeth Freeman Center who spent her days in the county's district courts, Duby has seen many parents show up in those courts when their children are in trouble with the law, but have trouble making time for prevention and outreach initiatives.
"We need to take responsibility as a community," she said, urging parents and community leaders to set standards for acceptable behavior.
Duby is the newly hired coordinator of the Southern Berkshire Youth Coalition, an umbrella organization of social service professionals, private organizations, youth advocates and community members overseeing area youth programs and issues.
The coalition also is a conduit for grant money serving programs such as the Railroad Street Youth Project .
The youth coalition has shared office space with the Railroad Street Youth Project, causing some confusion about the two organizations' community roles; RSYP provides outreach programs and activities for area teens.
In two weeks, the coalition will move into its new office at St. James' Episcopal Church, Duby said.
The youth coalition's recent work has included reviewing the results of a survey done last spring among 505 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades in the Berkshire Hills and Southern Berkshire Regional school districts. The survey results are not broken down by school district.
"Our overall feeling was that the results were encouraging. It was proof positive that early intervention and prevention programs are making an impact," Siegel said.
What also was clear, said Duby, is that there's more bravado and exaggeration among young people about their drug and alcohol use than is actually occurring. More than half of students surveyed overestimated their peers' substance use, the survey showed, when compared with actual use reported by students.
Not surprisingly, students involved in sports and extracurricular activities are less inclined to use drugs or alcohol.
The survey was conducted by Community Works Research and Development of Bennington, Vt. Students' answers were anonymous and were not reviewed by school district officials until the results were made final, Siegel said.
The study, which included comparative statewide information for only 10th- and 12th-graders, showed that:
n One in four South County students had been offered drugs, sold drugs or given drugs to others on school property during the 12 months preceding the study; the most likely site for drug exchanges in schools is in the hallways.
n Alcohol use among last year's 10th-graders was about 25 percent lower than among 10th-graders statewide; the area's local 10th-graders also showed unusually high participation levels in extracurricular activities.
n Among eighth-graders surveyed, 24 percent reported that they were current users of alcohol and 16 percent reported marijuana use.
n Among 10th-graders, 35 percent reported alcohol use, a figure below the state average of 44 percent, and 28 percent reported marijuana use, on a par with the state average.
n Among 12th-graders, 61 percent used alcohol -- above the 57 percent statewide average -- and 37 percent used marijuana, on a par with the state average.
n Twenty percent of eighth-graders surveyed reported smoking cigarettes, compared with 16 percent of 10th-graders and 31 percent of 12th-graders. Smoking figures locally matched statewide figures.
n The average age of first use of alcohol and marijuana ranged from 11 to 12 years old. The younger students reported earlier first use than the older students.
n "Drugs of choice" among the grade levels reflected a range of substances, including prescription drugs, inhalants, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
n Heroin use among high school seniors was 7 percent for 10th- and 12th-graders in South County, more than twice the statewide figure of 3 percent for those age groups; among eighth-graders, 4 percent reported heroin use.
n Seventeen percent of last year's seniors reported using Vicodin, a prescription narcotic.
n Between 80 and 90 percent of eighth- and 10th-graders reported that their parents have clear rules about substance abuse and that they would be punished if they broke the rules. For seniors, however, 75 percent reported clear rules, and just 67 percent believed that they would be punished.
Both Duby and Stein said that parents and other adults must acknowledge and address substance-abuse issues.
"It's a delicate subject," Siegel said. "It's easy to look at the kids and say 'They have a problem.' But the problem is the culture that accepts this behavior."
Although young people should be held accountable for their behavior, adults also must project responsibility.
Other survey results showed that by 12th grade, 64 percent of last year's seniors had had sexual intercourse, compared with 23 percent of eighth-graders and 28 percent of 10th-graders.
The survey also showed that "negative behavior in dating relationships is not a significant problem among South County students, although 13 percent reported having had sexual contact against their will.
Ninety-two percent reported using contraceptives the last time they had sex, and 62 percent reported using a condom.
Five percent reported experiencing a teen pregnancy.
Sixty-eight percent of eighth-graders have "no concerns" about being sexually active, compared with 57 percent of 10th-graders and 38 percent of 12th-graders.
Students actively involved in school or community activities were less likely to be sexually active than their uninvolved counterparts.
The study also showed that, among the students who responded to the survey, 33 percent reported a serious depressive episode in the past year, above the 28 percent state average. Suicide attempts were more common among eighth-graders -- 15 percent -- than for the older groups.