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Authorities work to keep kids away from summer vices

Children are more likely to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol in the summer months, a recent study suggests, and anti-drug advocates in the D.C. region say they've been working to keep area kids out of temptation since school let out two weeks ago.

The study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, surveyed thousands of kids between 12 and 17 from 2002 to 2010 on drug use -- specifically, when they tried drugs, cigarettes or alcohol for the first time.

Responses varied, but researchers noticed that many kids' "substance abuse initiation" began in June or July. On an average day in those months, more than 5,000 kids smoked cigarettes for the first time -- as opposed to 3,000 to 4,000 kids in other months. Similarly, more than 11,000 kids used alcohol for the first time on an average day in June, July or December -- as opposed to a daily average of 5,000 to 8,000 kids during the rest of the year. First-time marijuana use also spiked in the summer months, with 4,800 kids reporting a first-time use on an average day in June or July -- as opposed to 3,000 to 4,000 kids during the rest of the year.

Prevention experts in the area say it's likely that kids turn to alcohol or drugs during the summer months simply because they're less supervised and have more free time.

"Seasonal variation is very real," said H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at SAMHSA. "We need to stay connected with children in constructive ways, with the proper messaging. Our data show that kids who have parents who discourage substance abuse are less likely to use."

Local jurisdictions have been reaching out to kids as well. D.C., Virginia and Maryland have a variety of substance-abuse prevention programs while the District takes a ward-by-ward approach to helping kids stay drug-free.

Charles Dark, who runs a prevention program in Wards 5 and 6, says he notices a spike in drug and alcohol abuse every summer.

"Whenever you have idle time, they tend to fall into risky behaviors," he said.

But keeping kids out of drugs and alcohol during the summer months sometimes comes down to changing community attitudes as well, Dark said.

"In Ward 5 and 6, the issues are alcohol and underage drinking, marijuana, and [synthetic marijuana]," he said. "It's about access and looking at community attitudes as well. In some communities it's not frowned upon to have youth that are underage drinking. You have to tell people, 'It's not the norm to smoke a joint with your child.' It's almost like deprogramming folks."

Published: Monday, July 02, 2012

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