Joseph said the SHARP survey is organized by the Utah State Department of Human Services. “What the SHARP survey does, is [ask] a whole host of questions ... for the purpose of determining the protective and risk factors” of students sixth through 12th grade, Joseph said.
The survey is administered with parent permission to students every two years. This year, students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade participated. While the participation rate in the sixth- and eighth-grade tests were relatively high, the 10th- and 12th-grade numbers were much lower, causing Joseph to question the validity of those results.
The survey asks a variety of questions regarding students’ attitudes toward drugs, alcohol and sexual activity, as well as school, friends and family. Joseph explained that protective factors, such as having positive role models, feeling safe at school and positive feelings towards family and neighbors help lower kids’ chances of getting involved in risky behaviors.
On the other side are risk factors, such as friends and family being accepting of drug and alcohol use, as well as having negative attitudes about school or not feeling cared about by neighbors and family, Joseph said.
“It’s not all bad news,” Joseph said. “But it’s mostly bad.”
Compared to the last SHARP survey, which was conducted in 2011, almost all of the major protective factors saw lower numbers in 2013, while most of the major risk factors had increased. Many of the risk factors were reported at higher than the state average, while the protective factors were lower.
“We’re seeing an upward trend in risk factors, predominantly in the sixth grade,” Joseph said.
Many of the students surveyed reported not having positive role models. Thirty-five percent of sixth-graders reported not having a positive role model in school. By 12th grade, that number dropped to 19 percent.
Out of all the numbers, the protective factors that related to school were actually some of the most promising, Joseph said. “They’re right around the state average,” she said.
The survey also asks the participants about their exposure to controlled substances. Joseph said the main issues identified by the survey were alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. However, she said there was an alarming amount of prescription medication use reported by students in the sixth grade.
“It’s just so readily available,” she said.
Joseph said there was also a significant increase in the number of students who reported exposure to marijuana. “I think we’re going to see an increase across the board because of the legal changes regarding marijuana,” she said.
In addition to the normal questions, the MCAC was able to ask some questions of their own, and Joseph said there were some positive aspects of the survey. For example, the number of students surveyed who planned to attend college after graduation was well over half in each grade level.
Joseph pointed out that the survey concentrates on students’ perceptions of the world around them. “Often what they think their friends think might not be true,” she said.
The information from the SHARP survey helps local groups like the MCAC figure out where they can make the most impact.
“Since we’re not receiving money for substance abuse prevention, we as a coalition are going to work to address a protective factor,” Joseph said. “That protective factor is rewards for pro-social involvement.” She said the coalition wants to focus on getting students involved in the community because it will help lift the students up, rather than trying to deal with the problems after they’ve already started.