updated 9/8/2005 8:14:53 PM ET 2005-09-09T00:14:53

The percentage of Americans using illicit drugs declined slightly last year, though the results were more pronounced for youths, according to a survey released Thursday.

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For people ages 12-17, there was a 9 percent drop in illicit drug use between 2002 and 2004, the federal government announced.

“Today’s survey confirms the welcome trend on teen drug use,” said John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Overall, 19.1 million Americans used illicit drugs last year, or 7.9 percent. The numbers were basically the same for the surveys taken in the previous two years, when about 8 percent of Americans reported using illicit drugs within the previous month.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is an annual survey of close to 70,000 people. It measures drug and alcohol use through several categories, including age, ethnicity and type of drug.

The survey showed that illicit drug use dropped from 11.6 percent to 10.6 percent among youths ages 12-17 from 2002 to 2004.

Binge drinking on the rise
However, binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting, increased in the same age group — from 10.6 percent to 11.1 percent from 2003 to 2004.

Officials with the Marijuana Policy Project said federal officials “consistently pay no attention to this alarming situation.” The group seeks the regulation of marijuana in the same manner alcohol is regulated.

“Unlike occasional marijuana use, binge drinking can actually kill you,” said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the organization.

Federal officials said they are not ignoring binge drinking. The government is focused on getting the word out to young people that alcohol is not safe, said Leah Young, a spokeswoman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The survey also showed that 70.3 million Americans used tobacco products, which is a slight decline from the previous two years. The percentage of tobacco users among Americans ages 12 and older dropped from 30.4 percent to 29.2 percent.

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