Argus Swachman, a recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest, presents a report Wednesday at the Porter County Community Foudation about youth substance abuse in the county.

Giles Bruce, The Times

VALPARAISO — Prescription drug and ecstasy use are on the rise among young people in Porter County, who are smoking less marijuana and cigarettes than years past.

Those were some of the findings of a countywide substance abuse study detailed Wednesday at a presentation at the Porter County Community Foundation.

The major risk factors for youth drug abuse in Porter County are the community, schools and peers, the survey found. The majority of students reported that their peers are not aware of the negative impacts of substance use and there is a lack of rewards for positive social involvement, both trends that are increasing.

"More kids feel like there aren't things to do in the community," said Eric Goodcase, a recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest who helped prepare reports on the data. "And as kids get older, they're more likely to be higher in the risk factors and lower in the preventive factors."

Poor mental health also is a major risk factor for drug use, and a quarter of Porter County students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row, a sign of depression. Fifteen percent said they considered committing suicide, while 1 in 10 actually attempted it.

Argus Swachman, another recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest, said solving the youth substance abuse crisis is a way to truly "make America great again."

While Porter County students are using less heroin, cocaine and inhalants compared to prior years, they are abusing more prescription pills, hallucinogens and ecstasy, the research found.

About a third of Porter County 12th-graders reported trying cigarettes or marijuana, numbers that are on the decline, though e-cigarette use is rising. Forty percent of 12th-graders said they had consumed alcohol in the past month, despite a majority of students knowing the risks.

Half of high-school seniors say obtaining marijuana is not at all difficult. "It's getting easier to get marijuana around Porter County," Swachman said.

Four Ivy Tech Community College students and several Porter County high-schoolers held focus groups with middle-school students to gauge the barriers to participating in positive extracurricular activities.

The biggest obstacles to being more active were transportation, location, money and time.

"The teens are seeking a safe place to hang out. The teens are aware of the issues in the community and wish to avoid them," said Sara Reed, a recent graduate of Ivy Tech who helped conduct the focus groups. They just need close, inexpensive activities to participate in, she said.

The findings came from the 2015 Indiana Youth Survey, which asked questions of about 5,500 sixth- through 12th-graders in Porter County.

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Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.