Community Needs Assessment
Substance abuse is defined as using mind or behavior altering substances that result in negative behaviors and health outcomes. These substances include tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs. Some of the negative outcomes associated with substance abuse include:
- Domestic violence
- Child abuse
- Motor vehicle crashes
Some of the negative health outcomes associated with substance abuse include:
- Substance dependence
- HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections
- Teenage pregnancy
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers
- Digestive problems
- Liver disease
- Depression and anxiety
People who use substances often begin at an early age. Ninety percent of adults with a substance use disorder started using before the age of 18 and half started under the age of 15. And youth who use marijuana for the first time before age 14 are five times more likely to abuse drugs as an adult compared to youth who use marijuana at age 18. Therefore, preventing substance use among youth is crucial.
This assessment focused specifically on alcohol and marijuana use among 12-20 year olds and prescription drug use among 18-25 year olds. Below are summary findings on each substance.
Among Douglas County School District high school students during the year 2017, 26.3% of high school students had at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days – no change from 2013 (26.6%). While there was no actual increase in report of drinking alcohol, there was a significant increase in perception of a “typical student’s” frequency of drinking alcohol – drinking alcohol on one or more of the past 30 days (74.7% in 2013 to 82.9% in 2017). In 2017, 16.1% reported binge drinking at least once in the past 30 days – a significant increase from 13.8% in 2013. During the years 2011-2015, there was an increasing trend in emergency department visits for residents of all ages related to alcohol poisoning, but hospitalizations for alcohol poisoning rates were steady over time. Alcohol-related death rates are increasing over time, particularly in Douglas County as compared to Colorado as a whole. Alcohol was responsible for more fatal motor vehicle crashes than were other drugs.
Between 2013 and 2017, there were no significant increases in report of marijuana use by Douglas County high school youth. However, the percentage of youth reporting that they started using marijuana before the age of 13 did decrease significantly from 5.0% in 2013 to 3.3% in 2017. In 2017, (27.0%) of students reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime and 13.5% reported using marijuana at least once in the past 30 days. Older youth (18 and over), Hispanic students, multiracial students, and students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or unsure report higher percentages of regular marijuana use (at least once in the past month) than their peers. In 2017, 41.1% - two in five - youth report ever trying a electronic vapor product. Electronic vapor products can be used to smoke both tobacco and marijuana. This was a significant increase from the 11.5% of youth reporting ever trying an e-cigarette in 2013. Between 2011-2015 there was an overall increased trend in emergency department visits related to marijuana as well as for hospitalizations.
Prescription Drug Use
Among Douglas County School District high school students during the year 2017, 12.5% of students reported taking prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription – no change from 2013. About 6% of youth in Douglas County report misusing prescription drugs in the past 30 days. Youth 18 and over (14.1%) were significantly more likely to report misuse than 16-17-year-olds (6.8%) and youth 15 and younger (3.7%). Douglas County youth 18 and over (14.1%) were significantly more likely than youth statewide (7.5%) to misuse prescription drugs in the past 30 days. There was also no change between 2013 and 2017 reports of youth using cocaine, huffing, or using heroin, methamphetamines, or ecstasy. Nearly one-third (29.0%) of youth report easy access to prescription drugs for which they have no prescription; 16.8% of students were offered, sold, or given drugs at school during the past year. The majority of students (87.8%) think prescription drug misuse is wrong or very wrong and report that their families have clear rules about alcohol and drug use (91.2%).
Special Focus on Vaping
Vaping – the use of an electronic vapor product – has grown in popularity over the past five years. In 2017, the percentage of youth reporting ever trying an electronic vapor product was 41% and nearly one-third (30%) of students reported current use: having vaped at least once in the past 30 days. In 2013, only 11% of youth reported ever trying an e-cigarette. While the difference in the question language may play a role in the increased percentage of youth reporting ever use, it is clear that vaping is common. The percentage of youth currently using an electronic vapor product increases with age: 46% of Douglas County youth ages 18 and older report current vaping while only 22% of youth ages 15 and under report current use. More multi-racial youth (35%), Hispanic youth (38%) and white youth (29%) report smoking than Asian youth (15%). Youth who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual reported higher percentages of current vaping (38%) than did youth identifying as heterosexual (29%) or youth unsure of their sexual identity (29%).
Compared to youth who report that they do not currently vape, fewer youth who report current vaping also report having a parent or guardian they could ask for help with a personal problem (74% v 89%); fewer youth who currently vape also report having an adult to go to for help with a serious problem (68% v 80%). Compared to youth who do not currently vape, fewer youth who currently vape participate in extracurricular activities (66% v 73%) and more of them report certain health risk behaviors, including current binge drinking (46% v 3%), taking prescription pain medication without a prescription (28% v 5%), ever trying marijuana (70% v 8%), currently using marijuana (39% v 2%), and having sex with one or more people in the past three months (40% v 9%). Youth who report current vaping may struggle with their mental health more than youth who do not report current vaping. Compared to youth who do not currently vape, more youth who currently vape report feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 weeks in the past 12 months (41% v 22%). Additionally, compared to youth who do not currently vape, more youth who report currently vaping have considered suicide in the past 12 months (25% v 11%), made a plan in the past 12 months about how they would attempt suicide (20% v 7%), and report attempting suicide in the past 12 months (12% v 2%).
One-half of youth in Douglas County (50%) believe vaping every day is harmful. Perception of harm is higher among females (57%), Asian youth (67%), and students ages 15 and under (54%). The Coalition may want to further explore vaping among youth in Douglas County.
To read the full report, click here.