At a “Teen Summit” last month at the high school, school and community prevention officials released the results of a survey of sixth- through 12th-graders last spring that indicated that alcohol and drug use in Rappahannock County is above the national average.
“The results of our survey indicate that we have a community drug problem in Rappahannock, not just a school drug problem,” said Alan Rasmussen, a prevention specialist with the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board and chairman of the Rappahannock County Prevention Coalition (RCPC), which co-chaired the summit with Rappahannock National Bank.
More than 450 students were surveyed last May to determine the extent of drug use by adolescents in the community. Pride Surveys (pridesurveys.com) was the private research group that developed the questionnaire used in the survey, which was paid for by the school system.
Although few drugs are consumed during school hours, according to the survey results, high school principal Mike Tupper said the survey detected both alcohol and drug use “weekends” and “week nights.”
Alcohol remained the drug of choice of the young people surveyed: 40.3 percent of the students drank beer in the past year; 38.4 reported liquor use; 34.6 percent drank wine coolers.
In sixth grade alone, 17.6 percent drank beer, seven percent drank liquor and 10 percent drank wine coolers. In the senior class last year, the survey showed that 60.7 drank beer, 62.9 percent drank liquor and 51.6 percent drank wine coolers.
The survey also showed usage in the past year of cocaine and marijuana to be higher in the county than the national average. Although the national figures were not immediately available, the difference was said to be significant.
The Teen Summit was originally scheduled for last fall but was postponed to this spring — ironically, when a late-night, alcohol-related vehicle accident resulted in the death of 16-year-old Rappahannock High School junior Logan McKiernan. The then-17-year-old driver of the truck in which McKiernan was a passenger faces alcohol-related charges in a trial to be prosecuted June 24 by Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter Luke.
“I’d say it’s an issue,” Luke said last week, asked about alcohol use among the county’s teens. “And, as I have said before, you look to parents to be the first line of defense in this.” Luke added:
“I think it’s unfortunate that some parents seem to just wink at it [alcohol use by minors], but others are, I think, oblivious to it.”
Just last month, for example, Luke said he prosecuted five minors accused of underage alcohol possession.
“They were out, after 11 at night, just walking down the road near Laurel Mills,” he said. “They all, it turns out, snuck out of their homes without their parents’ knowledge.”
“My question on most of these cases is the same,” Luke said, “it being: where are the parents?”