CARSON CITY -- Nevada high school and middle school students in growing numbers are laying off methamphetamine, marijuana and other drugs, a new survey suggests.
However, the survey also found that the percentage of students who attempt suicide remains high.
High school student use of methamphetamine dropped to 6.3 percent in 2007, according to the Nevada Youth Risk Behavior Survey, well under the 11.7 percent use figure found in the 2005 survey.
Middle school student use of methamphetamine fell to 3.5 percent last year, compared with 5.5 percent in 2005.
About 3,500 Nevada middle and high school students were polled in March 2007 as part of a survey funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Results were released Thursday during a meeting of the Legislature's Committee on Education.
Drug use dropping
The latest figures continue a downward trend. In 2001, 15.7 percent of high school students reported using methamphetamine, while in 2003 that figure was 12.5 percent.
The state's high methamphetamine use figures led to a concerted effort last year by the Gibbons administration and the Legislature to fund anti-methamphetamine programs and pass laws restricting the sale of items used in the manufacture of the drug.
First lady Dawn Gibbons, now in the midst of a divorce from Gov. Jim Gibbons, has led the administration's anti-methamphetamine efforts.
"I think the preventative things we all have been doing around the state are showing results," Dawn Gibbons said in a phone interview. "This is terrific news. If we can keep them from ever using methamphetamine, we will save lives."
Gibbons said she was given an early look at the drop in methamphetamine use and has been mentioning the decline in the regular speeches she makes around the state.
Deborah McBride, director of the state Substance Abuse, Prevention and Treatment Agency, agreed Friday that anti-drug efforts by police, parents and interested coalitions have resulted in a drop in drug use.
"I would say that they have had a big influence in the decline," she said. "A lot of people are very active. They have brought more awareness to the problem throughout the state. They have had an impact."
McBride added that students themselves might have gotten the message on the dangers of meth and other drug use.
Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, chairwoman of an anti-methamphetamine committee that advised the governor and state legislators, also attributed the decline to hard work by many people, but she warned against slacking off in the effort.
"We must continue to put resources into the effort to educate Nevada youthful residents on the dangers of methamphetamine use," she said.
During the Thursday committee hearing, Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, repeatedly questioned whether students deliberately might have answered questions falsely. But state Department of Education officials said they believe the results are accurate in part because the survey is the only time when students actually can make their views known on subjects such as drugs, school violence and sex. Students anonymously answered 99 questions on risky behavior.
Similar surveys are funded by the CDC every other year across the nation. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault said Nevada results have been fairly consistent in most areas to findings in other states.
The latest survey also found that marijuana use in the previous 30 days by Nevada high school students dropped to 15.5 percent last year, down from 26.6 percent in 2001.
Cocaine use in Nevada fell to 7.8 percent last year, compared with 12 percent in 2001.
Use of alcohol and cigarettes also has significantly declined in Nevada since 2001, according to the survey.
Suicide attempt rate high
Although drug use is falling, the survey found that an alarming number of students say they have attempted suicide.
It found that 8.9 percent of high school students and 10.1 percent of middle school students attempted suicide in the previous 12 months. In 37 percent of the cases, students needed medical treatment.
The incidence of attempted suicide is nearly identical to the findings of surveys in 2003 and 2005. In 2001, 10.7 percent of high school students said they tried to kill themselves.
Gibbons called the youth suicide statistics "very disturbing." She said excessive use of alcohol might be part of the reason for youth suicide attempts.
The survey found that 21.1 percent of high school students had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row during the past 30 days. That compares with a 24.8 percent finding in 2005.
Rheault said he does not doubt the credibility of the statistics on youth suicide.
"I don't know if it is today's society, less parental involvement at home with parents both working, or what," he said. "Nevada has always been on the high side for teen suicide. When I grew up, I don't recall anyone who said or even thought about it."
Rheault said the state should look at incorporating suicide prevention material into required health classes.
A 2004 national study found that Nevada's overall suicide rate of 19.2 per 100,000 population was second to Alaska's 23.4 rate and nearly double the national 10.9 percent average.
"People don't want to die by suicide," said Misty Vaughan Allen, Nevada suicide prevention coordinator. "They ask for help in conscious and unconscious way. We are trying to increase awareness so people can better see the warning signs."
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901