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Survey finds high-risk behaviors among BIA students
Thursday, November 13, 2003

Students at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools smoke cigarettes, use marijuana and drink at significantly higher rates than their public school counterparts, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.

Based on results from a 2001 survey, researchers found that most Indian students engaged in high-risk behaviors. A majority of respondents said they are current smokers while nearly half said they used marijuana and alcohol regularly.

"The findings indicate that a substantial number of these students engage in behaviors that put them at risk for premature death and disability and underscore the need for expanded health education and counseling programs and policies in [American Indian] communities and BIA-funded schools," the researchers wrote in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the CDC.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey was completed by about 5,600 high school students at 66 BIA schools. Only schools with more than 10 students participated due to privacy concerns.

According to the survey results, 87.7 percent of students smoked at some point in their lifetime. More than half, or 56.5 percent, reported current smoking while nearly a quarter, or 24.4 percent, said they were frequent smokers.

A majority of students, or 80.7 percent, said they had used alcohol in their lifetime. Nearly half, or 48.8 percent, said they were current drinkers and 38.4 percent reported "heavy episodic drinking."

More than three fourths, or 77.0 percent, of students reported lifetime marijuana use. About half, or 49.7 percent, said they were using marijuana currently. Additionally, about one in five students said they had tried cocaine and methamphetamine.

When compared with results of the same survey among high school students nationwide, the rates of tobacco, marijuana and alcohol use among BIA students was much higher. For example, only 20 percent of U.S. high school students were current smokers and one fourth said they were current marijuana users.

The rate of current drinking, at 47.1 percent, was comparable to BIA students but fewer U.S. students reported heavy drinking than BIA students. And far fewer U.S. high school students reported trying cocaine and methamphetamine than Indian students.

The survey results were reported by Lana Shaughnessy of the BIA's Office of Indian Education Program and Dr. Everett Jones, the director of Adolescent and School Health at CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Shaughnessy and Jones said the BIA is working to reduce the high rates of high-risk behavior among Indian students. They cited staff training, health programs and outdoor adventure-based counseling. "BIA also has established a therapeutic model program in three BIA-funded boarding schools to develop schoolwide systems of behavior supports and interventions to reduce high-risk behaviors and improve students' academic performance," they wrote.

Get the Study:
Tobacco, Alcohol, and Other Drug Use Among High School Students in Bureau of Indian Affairs--Funded Schools --- United States, 2001 (MMWR November 7, 2003)

Related Study:
Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance --- United States, 2001 (MMWR June 28, 2002)

Related Stories:
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Study links childhood experience to alcohol abuse (09/19)
Indian Country tops drug report again (9/17)
Native youth top drug use survey again (09/06)
Native youth targeted in anti-drug ads (5/17)
Native youth heaviest smokers in nation (4/3)
Report: Native youth highest drug users (10/5)
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Drug use high among Native youth (9/1)

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