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Report finds Murray youth substance abuse higher than state average

Dec 01, 2017 08:01AM ● Published by Shaun Delliskave

Mary Johnstun reviews alcohol and substance abuse trends in an October 27 meeting. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

Gallery: Utah Departments of Health [1 Image] Click any image to expand.

A survey conducted by the Utah Departments of Health, Human Services, and Office of Education found significantly more Murray youth use e-cigarettes and marijuana compared to other Utah youth. 

In an October 3 presentation before the Murray City Council, Murray School District’s Darren Dean, director of personnel and student services, and Deb Ashton, safe and drug-free schools coordinator, presented information regarding substance abuse and violence among Murray school children.

The City Council approved a joint resolution of the Mayor and Municipal Council designating October 16–20 as Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention Campaign: Your Future is Key, So Stay Drug-Free! Week. As part of the presentation, Ashton handed out the 2017 Student Health and Risk Protection (SHARP) Survey to the council. She explained this data came from students in Murray School District who are in grades sixth, eighth, 10th, and 12th.

The SHARP survey is given to students statewide every other year. This year 1,675 Murray youth participated in the survey, the highest ever for Murray. The survey was conducted by Bach Harrison, LLC, a private research firm.

In substance abuse categories, Murray had a higher percentage of youth engaged in e-cigarette (vaping) use, marijuana use, alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Sixth-graders in each of these categories were lower than the state average, while all other grades remained above the state average. 

According to the survey, one in four 12th graders use e-cigarettes; 28.4 percent of 12th graders vaped versus the statewide average of 15.5. Tenth graders also were above the statewide average of 9.3 with 19.6 percent admitting to vaping.

Ashton said this statistic is alarming. “E-cigarettes are deceptively marketed as a smoking cessation tool and not as bad as tobacco cigarettes.” 

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Electronic cigarettes are a recent development in tobacco harm reduction. They are marketed as less harmful alternatives to smoking. Awareness and use of these devices has grown exponentially in recent years, with millions of people currently using them.” 

E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid to generate an aerosol, commonly called a “vapor” that the user inhales. Using e-cigarettes is sometimes called vaping. The liquid in the e-cigarette, called e-liquid, is usually made of nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin and flavorings.

“Kids are not using these to stop smoking, but to engage in its use,” Ashton said.

Marijuana usage among 12th graders was considerably higher in Murray than the state’s 12.3 percent, with 20.1 percent of respondents claiming they used it within 30 days of the survey. Likewise, the 10th-graders’ percentage was 17.2 compared to the state’s 9.3 percent.

Ashton was also surprised by the percentage of students feeling hopeless or sad for long periods of time. “The numbers are quite high for students feeling alienated.”

One in four Murray youth reported being depressed every day for two weeks or more. Suicide rates in Murray are comparable to the statewide average. The highest rates for suicide were for 10th graders, with 1 in 10 actually attempting it.

A good trend, according to Mary Johnston of Bach Harrison, is that “sixth, eighth, and 12th graders indicated that they are talking to someone about depression—more so than at the state level.” However, she noted, “A lower percentage of Murray students spoke to a parent about their depression.” 

Murray lined up with the state average of 21.9 percent of students responding that they felt bullied. Sixth and 8th graders reported the highest rates of bullying at 31.8 and 24.4 percent respectively.

Alcohol consumption rates for teens decreased in the “use at home” and “at someone else’s house” categories; however, there was a significant increase in alcohol-users who have consumed alcohol in a car in the past year. 

Ashton’s presentation included data that showed underage drinking rates are low when parents strongly assert their stand against the use of alcohol, and even a small amount of perceived parental acceptability can lead to underage alcohol use. 

Utah’s overall report can be found online at

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