The use of illegal drugs and alcohol among children and youth presents not only immediate health problems, but also greater risk for health concerns and potential addictions later in life. Children who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to become alcohol-dependent, or abuse alcohol as adults, than those who wait until 21 to begin drinking. In addition, it is estimated that 90 percent of smokers started smoking before they turned 18. The percentage of Maryland public school students in grades 9-12 who have ever had a drink of alcohol has steadily decreased over the past decade with only a very slight rise since 2014 to 53.5% of the students surveyed.
The State of Maryland has a number of programs in place to educate youth and adolescents about the risks associated with drug use. Schools are a particularly effective setting for drug-abuse prevention because they offer the opportunity for a consistent and sustained approach. The Maryland State Health Curriculum is employed in local curricula from kindergarten through 8thgrade and then again in high school.
The Maryland Department of Health also provides funding to local jurisdictions through the Behavioral Health Administration to support local Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug (ATOD) Prevention Offices within local health departments. ATOD offices offer education programs and community-outreach services to address the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs by Maryland youth. In addition, MDH launched “The Cigar Trap” to educate youth about the risks associated with flavored tobacco, and maintains Maryland TRASH (Teens Rejecting Abusive Smoking Habits), a committee of youth coalitions formed to raise awareness of the negative effect that tobacco can have on teen health.