By Amanda Wyatt
Two months after new statistics on drug and alcohol use among Pierson Middle/High School students sent shockwaves across Sag Harbor, the Community Coalition met last Thursday night to discuss the results of the survey which triggered such a strong reaction.
Roughly 20 citizens gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School library for the third Community Coalition on the evening of September 27. While other items were on the agenda, the coalition devoted the span of the meeting to addressing the Youth Development Survey (YDS).
The YDS, which was administered to 339 Sag Harbor students in grades seven through 12 in December 2010, was part of a larger effort by the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to look at substance use and other “problem behaviors” among students.
At last week’s meeting, Kym Laube, director of the Westhampton Beach-based organization HUGS, Inc. (Human Understanding and Growth Seminars), presented a summary of the YDS data. Before handing out hard copies of the data, she stressed the survey does not provide a complete picture of Sag Harbor students.
“I caution that this is one data point in beginning to take a look at your community,” said Laube, noting that it does not paint a complete picture of Sag Harbor students.
The merits of the survey have been hotly debated, with some residents questioning the accuracy of the survey and suggesting that numbers of drug and alcohol use were inflated.
According to Laube and Pamela Mizzi of the Suffolk County Prevention Resource Center, the survey used a number of data controls, including a question about a fake drug. If any student indicated they had used the imaginary drug, the survey was omitted.
Researchers also tossed surveys that appeared “extreme,” had conflicting answers and/or included doodles.
Principal Jeff Nichols estimated 400 students probably took the survey and that roughly 60 surveys were omitted for various reasons.
Still, the accuracy of the survey continued to be questioned by some. Dr. John Oppenheimer said that in the 30 years he had been practicing medicine he had become “more and more cynical” about data collection.
“I don’t think it’s unique to Sag Harbor,” he said. “The point is that there’s a problem.”
“I agree with John that whether it’s five percent or 22 percent, it’s a problem and it needs to be addressed,” added Allison Scanlon, a North Haven parent and founder of Hamptons Youth Sports.
For Police Chief Tom Fabiano, the survey was “a stepping stone.” He mentioned that Sag Harbor could use the data as a tool for identifying the problems in the community and looking at what other communities are doing that is effective.
At the same time, Laube noted, “Time and time again, no matter how [researchers] have done this, they’ve found that it’s accurate information.”
Laube said the data was consistent, although Pierson students ranked higher or lower than their county, town and nationwide counterparts on certain questions.
For example, no Pierson eighth grader had reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to eight percent nationally. Only two percent of Pierson eighth graders had used tobacco in the past 30 days, lower than six percent nationally.
However, Pierson students generally reported greater use of alcohol than their counterparts in Southampton Town, Suffolk County and in the nation.
For example, 77 percent of Pierson seniors reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 57 percent in the county and 41 percent nationally. And while 22 percent of 11th and 12th graders reported binge drinking nationally, 41 percent of Pierson juniors and seniors reported they binge drank.
Community Coalition participant Helen Atkinson-Barnes suggested the coalition take a “pro-social messaging” approach to dealing with the data. For instance, rather than reporting 39 percent of eighth graders have had at least one alcoholic drink in their lifetime, the coalition could focus on the 61 percent who have never consumed alcohol.
The discussion on drugs and alcohol will continue at the next Community Coalition meeting, which is scheduled for October 18 at 5:45 PM.