New report: Less youths abusing substances in Tennessee


Less and less youths are turning to substances in the Volunteer state. A national survey on drug use and health compares the numbers in Tennessee to the national average.

It shows the number of Tennessee youth abusing alcohol and smoking marijuana is less than the national rate. But the number using illicit drugs, other than marijuana, is comparable to the U.S. rate. The study also shows more young people here are smoking cigarettes than the national average.

The national data is based on surveys of children between 12 and 17 years old, between 2004 and 2006 and between 2012 and 2014. For that 10 year time period, Tennessee officials said the numbers overall mean good news.

"There has been a decline, but not this mark of a decline," TDMHSAS commissioner Marie Williams said.

A new report shows drops across the board. Alcohol use is down from 14% to 10%. Misuse of pain relievers dropped from 9% to 5%. And cigarette use was nearly cut in half from 13% to 7%.

Commissioner Williams said the decline is in part because of increased state programs.

"We've been working in a huge effort with coalitions that we fund," the commissioner said.

One of those coalitions is right here in Sullivan County. Alice McCaffrey runs the community group. Their focus is on educating students of the dangers of using substances. They do that through posters, billboards and PSA's online.

"Just as students were walking around their schools, they were getting these messages regularly," McCaffrey said.

"Signs that say don't smoke here --things like that are changing the culture," Sullivan County commissioner Baxter Hood said.

Hood speaks to thousands of students each year about tobacco use. He said more work needs to be done.

"I see no improvement with what they tell me about what's going on with tobacco use at schools, in the restrooms," Hood said.

McCaffrey said the numbers are higher in Sullivan County. But they are declining. Alcohol use is down from 29% to 18%. And cigarette use dropped from 21% to 16%.

So McCaffrey said the key to driving those numbers further down starts with prevention.

"Talk to your children they do listen," McCaffrey said. "They may be rolling their eyes, but they hear."

The Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition is also focusing on a couple of newer issues: the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana.

In Sullivan County, McCaffrey said marijuana use is about equal to tobacco use among teens. Across the state, marijuana use has stayed steady at 6% in the last decade.