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Survey: Many Croton-Harmon Seniors Binge Drinking

CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. ? A significant percentage of Croton-Harmon High School seniors surveyed on their use of alcohol reported that they were binge drinking, according to data presented to the Board of Education by the Croton Community Coalition.

Overall, high school and middle school students said they were smoking and drinking less overall, according to the survey. But more than half the seniors reported drinking in the 30 days before the survey was taken, and three-quarters of those said they were binge drinking.

"As superintendent, the information that bothers me the most, the data that bothers me the most, is the binge drinking," said Croton-Harmon Schools Superintendent Edward Fuhrman. Binge drinking, said survey presenters, is defined as having at least five drinks in two hours or less.

Officials from Student Assistance Services, a non-profit that works to prevent substance abuse, presented the survey data at Thursday evening's Croton-Harmon Board of Education work session.

As a recipient of a federal Drug Free Communities grant, the Croton Community Coalition is required to survey students biannually on substance use. In spring 2011, students in grades seven through 12 were anonymously surveyed on their use of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana in the past 30 days. In the next survey cycle, students will be questioned about their use of prescription painkillers.

Presenters said the number of students using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana declined between a 2008 survey and the latest survey. Tobacco use dropped 82.2 percent, alcohol use 37.2 percent and marijuana use 52.4 percent.

Fuhrman cautioned, however, that the schools' small populations were the reason for the percentage fluctuations.

"Our numbers are so small, that's why you get these huge percentages," he said. "The second thing, this is only one set of data. Third, this does not follow a cohort, but it does not purport to be more than it is."

Overall, the numbers for Croton-Harmon seniors were above the national average. More than half (55.8 percent) reported using alcohol in the last 30 days, compared with a national average of 40 percent. About one-third (36.6 percent) reported using marijuana in the last 30 days, compared to 22.6 percent nationwide. And nearly one-fourth (22.8 percent) reporting using tobacco in the last 30 days, compared to a national average of 18.7 percent.

Bonnie Fenster, director of research and evaluation for Student Assistance Services, said the Croton-Harmon numbers were in line with Westchester County averages.

A school board member said she wished the survey was administered every year, since that would make it easier to follow a class of students, or "cohort."

"The big shock point was the break between eighth and ninth grade," Croton-Harmon school board member Neal Haber said of the 2008 survey. "Now, what we're seeing is a slow climb and spike in 12th grade," he said.

The Croton Community Coalition will hold a community meeting at Croton Free Library, although it's unclear if a date has been set. Croton-Harmon High School students were notified of the data Monday morning.

School district officials said they intend to post the entire survey on the district website.