Local students track with state’s rate of risky activity

By Marlena Hartz, Freedom Newspapers

Students in Curry and Roosevelt counties are doing drugs, having sex and engaging in other risky activities at rates comparable to students across the state, according to data from a controversial student survey.

That isn’t necessarily positive, said Dan Green, a New Mexico Department of Health epidemiologist who visited Clovis Thursday to discuss the results of the 2005 New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey.

Among 40 states that participated in the 2005 survey, New Mexico ranked highest for number of students who used cocaine, injected drugs intravenously, smoked marijuana and attempted suicide that resulted in injury.

Participation in some risky activities — including alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use, and drinking and driving — declined from 2003 to 2005. Despite improvements, substance abuse rates in New Mexico remain higher than the national average.

“A lot of the time the data raises questions, and it’s important to try to answer them,” said Green, who admitted he doesn’t know why these risky behaviors are so rampant among New Mexico students.

Last year marked the first Clovis Municipal Schools participated in the survey. Some in Clovis still regard its inquiries into the sexual activities of youth as inappropriate, according to about 20 eastern New Mexico social workers who analyzed the results of the survey with Green Thursday.

Administered in grades 9 through 12, the survey — which contains 137 questions — assesses habits that lead to chronic conditions later in life. In New Mexico, the survey is administered by the New Mexico Department of Health, the New Mexico Public Education Department and the University of New Mexico.

Its questions are pulled from a Centers for Disease Control survey administered nationally.

In school districts other than Clovis, the YRRS was administered in 2001 and 2003.
In 2005, 79 of 89 school districts in the state allowed students to take the survey. A sample of 224 Roosevelt students and 206 Curry students participated in 2005.
“We had a better participation rate than ever in this (eastern) part of the state. That’s the biggest victory we had in 2005,” Green said.

County results reaffirmed what many social workers say they already knew.
In Curry and Roosevelt counties, about 70 percent of students have ingested alcohol, for instance.

“These are not new problems,” Clovis Schools Director of Health Services Rhonda Sparks said.

“The important thing is to collect the data, and not assume we knew but prove we know,” Sparks said.

Armed with the data, those in social services can better steer youth from behavior pitfalls, they said. Obtaining state and federal grants to launch programs that address problems is easier with data that proves problems exist, they said.

“We want to tackle problems in some measurable way. The point of the data is to validate you have a problem. If you think you have a solution, this tells you if you moved the needle,” said Erinn Burch, executive director of United Way of Eastern New Mexico.

Participation in risky behaviors is a societal issue that “students bring to school,” Sparks said.

“So, we are not going to solve them at school. We need a county-wide system approach,” Sparks said.

Copies of YRRS reports can be found online at www.health.state.nm.us/yrrs.html