Fewer Arizona students said they smoked cigarettes, consumed alcohol or used illegal drugs this year than in 2002, according to a statewide survey released this week.
However, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission study found that drug use among state youths remains slightly higher than self-reported drug use among students nationwide.
In Maricopa County, students generally reported less drug use than their peers statewide in the April survey of 40,960 middle and high school students.
Ecstasy use seemed to drop the most. Statewide and in Maricopa County, about half as many students reported using Ecstasy in 2004 than in 2002.
"The information is getting out there that Ecstasy isn’t candy, it is dangerous stuff," said Mesa police Sgt. Jim Schweisthal, a supervisor for the school resource program in Mesa that places full-time police officers on every junior high and high school campus.
Schweisthal called results of the state-funded study "encouraging."
Overall, more than half of high school seniors surveyed in Maricopa County said they have used illegal drugs at least once, and nearly eight in 10 said they have consumed alcohol.
Other county results included:
• More than one in four eighth-graders said they were involved in at least one fight on campus during the last 12 months.
• About one in four high school sophomores said they have participated in binge drinking.
• More than one in five high school seniors said they had been drunk or high at school in the last year.
• Nearly one in 10 high school seniors said they had sold illegal drugs in the last year.
• About one in 20 students said they had carried a gun, knife or club on school property during the last 30 days.
Steve Ballance, director of statistical analysis for the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, said his office is still sorting through survey results and drawing conclusions.
"We’ll literally be looking at this data up until the time that we administer the next survey," Ballance said.
He called the study the most extensive of its kind in Arizona, although he acknowledged questionnaires did not ask students about their use of prescription drugs such as the muscle relaxant carisoprodol, or Soma. Mesa and Gilbert police broke up a Soma ring in April involving five East Valley high schools, and Gilbert’s Highland High School suspended 29 students in March for bringing Soma onto campus.
Ballance said that if he had the survey to do over again, he likely would have included questions about prescription drugs. "That may be something that we take a look at in 2006," he said. "With a survey model of this complexity, you have to be careful what you add and what you take away."
The complete Arizona Criminal Justice Commission report is available at