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Fewer Montana high school students report using marijuana now than two years ago, despite worries that legalization of medical marijuana would boost pot smoking among teenagers.

In a survey of more than 9,000 Montana high school students, 39 percent said they'd tried marijuana, down 3 percent from two years ago.

Asked if they had used marijuana in the past month, 21 percent said yes. That was down 2 percent from two years ago and down 4 percent from 1999.

Those are just some of the results of the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released Wednesday by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

The survey, developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, asks 93 questions about everything from bullying to eating vegetables to having sex. Montana gives the surveys to a sampling of high school and middle school students every two years.

Denise Juneau, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a news release that the survey reminds adults "how important it is to continually engage youth in frank conversations about risky behaviors."

The Montana education office pointed to a number of positive trends:

--Alcohol abuse was down. Thirty-eight percent of state high school students had a drink in the past 30 days, down from 43 percent two years ago and from 58 percent in 1999.

--Binge drinking, or having five or more drinks at a sitting, dropped from 30 to 25 percent in two years.

--More teens, 87 percent, wore seat belts, up from 81 percent.

--Drinking and driving was down to 11 percent, compared to 22 percent a decade ago.

--Cigarette smoking has declined dramatically. Forty-four percent of high school students had tried a cigarette, a drop from 70 percent in 1999.

--Methamphetamine use has fallen in the last dozen years - only 3 percent of high school students said they've ever tried it, compared to 14 percent before the state's tough anti-meth campaign.

On the negative side, reports of bullying and cyber-bullying increased. Twenty-six percent of Montana high school students said they'd been bullied at school, up from 23 percent two years ago.

It was worse among middle school students. Fifty percent reported being bullied, up from 38 percent.

When it came to cyber-bullying, 19 percent of high school students and 24 percent of middle school kids said they had been targeted in the past year, through email, text messaging and the like. Two years ago, 18 percent of high school and middle school students reported cyber-bullying.

The number of students who said they were offered illegal drugs on school property jumped from 21 to 25 percent in two years.

Sexual activity was virtually unchanged from two years ago - 48 percent of teens said they had had sex, an increase from 43 percent in 1999. Use of condoms was 62 percent, down from two years ago, and use of birth control pills to prevent pregnancy also fell to 21 percent.

This year's survey asked two new questions about texting and talking on cell phones while driving. Fifty percent of students reported texting or emailing while driving a car in the last 30 days, and 53 percent reported talking on a cell phone while driving.

Students were also asked for the first time about using prescription drugs - including OxyContin, Ritalin and Xanax -- without a doctor's prescription. Eighteen percent of high school students said they'd done so. On another new question, 30 percent said they drank an energy drink like Red Bull in the past seven days.

In Bozeman, Superintendent Kirk Miller said survey results for the high school are available, but two administrators who have the statistics are on vacation.

The public instruction office combined Bozeman's survey results with those of 2,000 high school students in the Southwest Montana region, which includes Helena, Butte and 11 rural counties ranging from Park and Sweet Grass to Madison and Beaverhead.

Marijuana use in the region -- the number of students who ever tried marijuana -- was 5 percent below the state average, and current users were 2 percent lower.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.

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