Alcohol, cigarettes, and vaping are the most commonly used substances by youth in Somerset County.
That information along with other youth data trends was presented during the Somerset County Drug-Free Communities meeting.
“We’ve been tracing it for almost 20 years now, which is really great. It gives us some substance to say, ‘This is what students might be using. These are trends we’re seeing over time.'”
That’s what Becca Mull Director of Somerset County Drug-Free Communities and Community Program Educator with UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Twin Lakes
Every two years, students from each school district in Somerset County answer about 200 questions on the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS).
The questions deal with substance use, bullying, mental health, and other parts of their lives to direct leaders on how they can help.
“That actually drives all the prevention programming that myself and my department offer. We partner with all Somerset County schools and do prevention programming from Pre-K through the Senior High, hitting on some of the topics we looked at,”
The 2021 data was released to local community representatives inside the Somerset County Technology Center on Thursday morning.
Alcohol stayed the number one substance used by youth, inhalants are the most commonly used illicit drug, favorable attitudes and use of marijuana increased, and students are more aware of what’s in their vaping device.
Students were also asked about what substances they’ve used in their lifetime, what behaviors they think are dangerous, and what they think their parents would disapprove of.
“One of the great things about the PAYS survey is that it actually gives us risk and protective factors. It breaks down what puts students at risk of using and what protects them from future use,”
“The data gathered in PAYS serve two primary needs. First, the results provide school administrators, state agency directors, legislators and others with critical information concerning the changes in patterns of the use and abuse of these harmful substances and behaviors. Second, the survey assesses risk factors that are related to these behaviors and the protective factors that help guard against them. This information allows community leaders to direct prevention resources to areas where they are likely to have the greatest impact,”
Since this was the first survey since the pandemic, new data about mental health also emerged.
“We also have seen some trends in our mental health. We see students reporting feeling sad or depressed most days last year. We had almost a third of our students overall saying that,”
Using the power of facts and figures to hopefully make a change.
“That’s super important for us and helps us as our drug free communities to have that mission of healthy, drug-free living for all Somerset County residents, and something that we want to see,”