PUTNAM COUNTY - A survey of Putnam County students show decreases in many major issues facing youth after a five year initiative.

Previoulsy, the Sentinel reported that The Putnam County Educational Service Center(PCESC) recently ended their five year coalition known as Safe Schools Healthy Students Initiative. The half-decade effort was aimed at students across the county.

The program targeted first graders through high school seniors through media outlets, workshops, speakers and interventions. Throughout the five year period students were surveyed in order to track the county's progress. The series of questions were broken down into three sections- mental health, alcohol/tobacco/drug use and bullying. For each section two surveys were issued. The first being the "SAFE" survey which was conducted each year (Nov. 2008-2012) for all students. The second survey is known as the "PRIDE" survey which was conducted Nov. 2008, 2010 and 2012 for grades four, six, eight, ten and twelve.

Dr. Stacey Rychener, a grant specialist for Bowling Green State University's Center for Evaluation Services, was brought in to evaluate the data collected from both surveys over the five year coalition.

Whereas last week focused on mental health, the second portion of the evaluation focuses on drug, alcohol and tobacco.

Beginning with illegal drugs, Rychener was pleased to report that marijuana use by students in the county is at a low. As of Nov. 2012, students who reported using marijuana was at two percent. From 2008 to 2012 there were 50 fewer students who reported using marijuana in the last 20 to 30 days. According to Rychener, this number is much lower than a national average that has seen a steady increase over the past few years.

Rychener warned, however, that this is a number to pay attention to despite the current low.

"You guys have gone down across the country but, as it becomes more legal, both recreational and medical, this is a number we need to watch and focus on," said Rychener.

"Ohio has a ballet measure to pay attention to this year and Michigan has legalized medical marijuana.

"However, overall you have gone done. You have fought that national average but the number of seniors shows sign of increase. You have been making an impact overall and it is working.

Though numbers were good in terms of marijuana, the county's students saw poorer but improved numbers in terms of alcohol.

"Five years ago you were over the national averages in almost every category," said Rychener. "But now five years later, you were only over the national average in one category. You have definitely made an impact."

Rychener was also quick to to point out that data indicates the earlier the use the much worse the outcome when students become adults.

"You have 52 fewer students who reported using alcohol in the past 20 to 30 days from 2008 to 2012," said Rychener. "There were 44 fewer students who reported using alcohol in the past 10-19 days form 2008 to 2012.

"And then across the board for the longitudinal data you've got over a 7 percent decrease and 200 fewer students saying that they have used alcohol in the past 30 days. In almost every grade level you've pushed back the age of onset close to a year"

Rychener warned that the eighth grade numbers were sneaking back up and they were an age group to "watch closely."

The next set of data focused on the effect parents have on students drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

"Now sometimes it is hard to change ideas and perceptions in parents but it is critically important to get parents on board for these types of issues," said Rychener. "And so you have had a variety of interventions in the past five years to include parents."

The surveys show that 80 percent of county students perceived that their parents think it is not OK for them to drink. Rychener also stated that of that 80 percent, 94 percent of them did not drink.

"If they received a very strong message from their parents then they are more likely not drink," said Rychener. "The issue becomes the older they get the less likely they feel like they are getting that message from their parents. Once again though all your interventions with parents and stake holders as well as the media messages are definitely working."

Rychener said that 181 more students perceived that their parents think it never OK for them to drink form 2008 to 2012.

In other parenting areas, when it comes to parents setting clear rules, Rychener said the number of students who said their parents never of seldom set clear rules also said they are much more likely to drink.

"On the other hand, parents who set clear rules have students who are less likely to drink," said Rychener. "These students said it came down to consequences."

If students don't feel like there are consequences then they are much more likely to drink, said Rychener.

"A lot of times parents don't feel like their students are listening to them but all of our data tells us they are they are- parents are very important to this process," said Rychener "So if they are feeling like their parents are not talking to them they are much more likely to use."

Rychener also extended this to teachers.

"If they feel like they are getting a strong message from their teachers about not drinking, they are also much more likely to not drink," said Rychener. "So not only are parents important, so to are teachers. We have strong data and statistics to back up the fact that parents and teachers play an important role in hindering drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

The Sentinel will have the fighting, bullying and safety results in next week's issue.