The findings of the first stage of an Australian version of the Planet Youth program have been released, revealing concerning statistics on substance misuse rates among adolescents.
Among the results of the questionnaire, which was undertaken in 2019, nearly 30% of Year 10 students surveyed in the Limestone Coast admitted to trying alcohol by the time they were 13.
Nearly 30% also admit to being drunk in their lifetime – while 11.5% say they were drunk in the last month.
More than 23% of adolescents said they drink alcohol at home, with 27.5% reporting they drink at the homes of others.
Nearly 85% of those surveyed flagged that their parents disapproved of drunkenness.
Substance Misuse Limestone Coast (SMLC) project officer Sophie Bourchier, whose department is coordinating the Planet Youth trial in the region, said the findings would be distributed to councils, clubs, schools, community stakeholders, and parents to drive “environmental change”.
“We really want the community to think about drug and alcohol use … and how important it is for us to make changes around drug and alcohol use in our community,” Ms Bourchier told The SE Voice.
Planet Youth is an international evidence-based primary prevention model, introduced in Iceland in 1998, when youth alcohol and other drug use rates in the country were among Europe’s highest.
Since then, Iceland has recorded a large reduction in substance use in its young people, with the program credited and adopted in 20 countries since then.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation is now trialling Planet Youth in Australia in the Limestone Coast and Murray Bridge as well as the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Marrickville in NSW.
According to Ms Bourchier, Australia’s rates of substance misuse in adolescents now sit close to where Iceland’s was in 1998.
“It’s concerning … for 30% of young people to have tried alcohol by the age of 13. For 30% of our 15-year-olds to have been drunk in their lifetime is concerning,” she said.
Importantly, the Limestone Coast’s questionnaire results are nearly identical to the national average – pointing to what Ms Bourchier describes as “a global problem” that the Planet Youth model aims to identify locally in order to develop community interventions to protect Australian youth.
The Limestone Coast questionnaire was conducted as an ‘opt-out’ survey in late-2019, across four secondary schools – Mount Gambier and Grant high schools, St Martins Lutheran College and Allendale East Area School.
However, Tenison Woods College did not take part in the questionnaire as the study was not granted approval by Catholic Education South Australia.
School principal David Mezinec told The SE Voice suporting the well-being of young people at Tenison Woods College and in the local community was “really important” and cited the school’s utilisation of the Climate School program as part of the evidence of its stance.
“Tenison Woods College is an active member of the Limestone Coast Drug Action Team and we have been a part of the community meetings regarding the Planet Youth Program,” Mr Mezinec said.
Mr Mezinec said Tenison Woods had been approached to participate in the Planet Youth research but was “unfortunately” unable to participate in the program “at this time”.
“Catholic Education SA uses the Australian Association for Research Education (AARE) application process when considering requests to conduct research in Catholic schools,” he said.
“In this instance, the applicant did not meet the requirements for approval. The researchers were informed and given the opportunity to respond.”
It remains unclear which aspects of the Planet Youth program did not meet the AARE’s research requirements. When asked to clarify this point, a spokesperson for Catholic Education South Australia said they would not be able to offer an answer as it was currently “school holidays”.
However, The SE Voice understands Catholic Education South Australia did not grant approval to Tenison Woods College, specifically, because the study was offered in the form of an opt-out survey.
A second survey will be conducted in 2021 from the same pool of schools. The trial has the support of Mount Gambier City and Grant District councils.