BISMARCK - North Dakota high school students are smoking, binge drinking and abusing prescription drugs at lower rates than before, but the percentage using e-cigarettes and attempting or contemplating suicide is concerning, officials said Monday in releasing new survey results.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler called the results of the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey "very positive" overall.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention administers the voluntary survey to students in grades 7-12 every two years in all 50 states. About 10,300 of North Dakota's roughly 32,000 high school students in grades 9-12 took the survey last February.
Eighty percent said they did not use cigarettes, cigars or smokeless tobacco, up from 74 percent two years ago. More than 22 percent reported trying an e-cigarette at least once in the month before the survey - the first time that question was asked since North Dakota began participating in the survey in 1995.
The percentage of students who reported binge drinking - defined as having at least five drinks in one sitting at least once in the month before the survey - dropped from 22 percent to 18 percent. Marijuana use also fell by 1 percent and prescription drug abuse by 3 percent compared with the 2013 survey.
But students' answers to questions about suicide continue to raise red flags. Twenty-seven percent reported feeling sad or hopeless almost daily for two or more weeks in the past year, up from 25 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2005.
The percentage who said they had attempted suicide at least once in the past year dropped from 12 percent to 9 percent, but the percentages who had planned or seriously considered a suicide attempt held steady at 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
"That's something that's alarming to us," said Gail Schauer, assistant director of the safe and healthy schools unit at the Department of Public Instruction.
Baesler said the department still must dig into the data to try to understand why more kids are thinking about suicide. She noted that more students have experienced traumatic events in their lives and are dealing with things such as cyberbullying and "sexting" that didn't exist years ago.
"The list of things to worry about as a parent grows longer," she said.