updated 9/9/2004 12:00:39 PM ET 2004-09-09T16:00:39

Fewer American youths are using marijuana, LSD and Ecstasy, but more are abusing prescription drugs, according to a government survey released Thursday.

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The 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health also found youths and young adults are more aware of the risks of using pot once a month or more frequently.

A highlight of the study was a 5 percent decline in the number of 12- to 17-year-olds who ever have used pot. Among 12- and 13-year olds, current marijuana smokers — those who said they used it within a month of the survey — declined nearly 30 percent.

“It is encouraging news that more American youths are getting the message that drugs are dangerous, including marijuana,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said.

For youths age 12 to 17, use of Ecstasy and LSD in the year leading up to the survey dropped significantly — by 41 percent for Ecstasy and 54 percent for LSD, the study said. The study, which also included adults, found that overall nearly 20 million people aged 12 and over use illegal drugs.

But there was a 20 percent decline between 2002 and 2003 in the number of youths that were ’heavy users’ of pot — those who smoke it either daily or at least 20 days each month, according to the findings released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Survey results on alcohol use showed the numbers of binge and heavy drinkers not changing between 2002 and 2003. About 54 million Americans ages 12 and older binged on alcohol at least once in the 30 days before being surveyed. These people had five or more drinks on five or more occasions in the past month.

People 18 to 25 showed the highest prevalence of binge and heavy drinking.

But while the findings on drinking showed little change, the study found more people had tried prescription pain relievers who did not need them for medical reasons. The most striking increase was a 15 percent rise in prescription drug abuse by people 18 to

25. In the broader population of 12 and over, 5 percent more people took those drugs recreationally.

The study found that young people who were exposed to anti-drug messages outside school took notice — with rates of current pot use 25 percent lower than those who did not get those messages.

And youths who believed their parents would strongly disapprove of marijuana used it 80 percent less than others.

Other findings include:
—Drunk driving declined from 2002, but drugged driving held steady.

—Smoking rates remained largely unchanged overall, with 71 million people who had used tobacco in the previous month. But fewer youths reported smoking in the previous year or ever.

—About 2.3 million people had used cocaine in the previous month, 1 million had used hallucinogens and 119,000 had used heroin.

—Of the nearly 17 million adult users of illegal drugs last year, nearly three-quarters worked full time or part time.

—Marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug, with 14.6 million who had used it in the previous month, or 6.2 percent of the population. About two-thirds of new users were under 18.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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