As part of its overall mission to protect the nation’s health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed programs to prevent the most serious health risk behaviors among children, adolescents, and young adults. One part of a four-pronged strategy to accomplish this is the identification and monitoring of both critical health problems among youth and school health policies and programs to reduce them. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) provides national, state, and local-level data on the prevalence of six categories of priority health risk behaviors. The CDC, individual states, and the public can use this vital information to support the design and evaluation of targeted interventions to help young people avoid these high-risk behaviors, one of which is substance abuse.

The school-based components of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance system were first implemented in 1990–1991 and conducted biennially during odd-numbered years thereafter. The 1999 survey employed a three-stage cluster design, based on an original sampling frame of 1,270 large counties or groups of smaller adjacent counties, to produce a nationally representative sample of students in grades 9–12. At the second stage of sampling, 187 schools were selected, with probability proportional to school enrollment size. To enable separate analysis by race or ethnicity, schools in the sample with substantial numbers of black and Hispanic students were sampled at higher rates than other schools. The final stage of sampling consisted of randomly selecting one or two intact classes of a required subject, such as English or social studies, from grades 9–12 at each chosen school.

The final sample in the 1999 national survey consisted of 15,349 questionnaires completed in 144 schools. The school response rate was 77 percent and the student response rate was 80 percent, for an overall response rate of 66 percent. All students in classes selected for inclusion in the sample are eligible to participate in the survey. Survey procedures are designed to protect students’ privacy by allowing for anonymous and voluntary participation.

State and local jurisdictions participating in this program with their own separate surveys employ the same questionnaire (with some additional or deleted questions based on local needs) and similarly rigorous methods in an attempt to obtain data representative of their public school population in grades 9–12. In the 1999 survey, 22 states and 14 large cities succeeded in obtaining a response rate that allows them to generalize their findings to all public schools in their jurisdiction. Findings from these surveys are subject to two limitations: (1) the data apply only to

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