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Fewer teenagers use drugs, cigarettes

The number of American teenagers who use illegal drugs has dropped by 11 percent over the past two years, according to an annual survey by the U.S. government.
/ Source: Reuters

American teenagers are cutting back on their use of illicit drugs and cigarettes, but alcohol consumption is holding steady, the government says.

An annual survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders done for the Department of Health and Human Services, found declines in many kinds of drugs for high school students, especially for Ecstasy and LSD.

Overall, the Bush administration said the annual survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed an 11 percent drop in illegal drug use in the past two years, slightly surpassing President Bush’s goal of a 10 percent reduction during that period.

The survey, known as Monitoring the Future, tracked drug use and attitudes among 48,500 students from 392 schools.

There was one troubling sign: slowing declines in the use of certain drugs by eighth graders — and a slight increase in their use of inhalants, said Lloyd D. Johnston, who directed the study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

“We should take this as a little warning because eighth graders have been indicative of things to come in the past,” Johnston said.

In addition, there was an overall increase in the illicit use of the synthetic painkillers OxyContin and vicodin, reflective of patterns seen in the general population.

The survey showed a different picture of drug use from another poll of teens that also is used to measure the effectiveness of White House drug control policy. A private study by Pride Surveys in September showed illegal drug use and cigarette smoking among sixth- through 12th-graders increased slightly during the last school year compared with the year before.

Marijuana remains popular
But both surveys agreed that marijuana remains by far the most widely used illegal drug. Monitoring the Future reported that it had been tried at least once by 46 percent of 12th graders and used by more than a third in the past year. Both numbers showed a decrease over last year.

“More kids are seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than all other drugs combined,” John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a news conference. Walters added that in 15 cities, surveys have found that more teens smoke marijuana than regular cigarettes.

However, he said the results were encouraging.

“This survey shows that when we push back against the drug problem, it gets smaller,” Walters said.

Johnston and administration officials offered differing explanations for the decline in use of Ecstasy and LSD.

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a synthetic drug considered part hallucinogen and part amphetamine. The drug became popular at dance parties because of the energy and euphoria it gave to users, but it has harmful side effects. It can lead to brain, heart and kidney damage.

Johnston said teens now are more aware about the risks of Ecstasy.

The reduced availability of LSD, following the breakup in 2000 of a lab that produced large quantities of the drug, accounted for the drop in its use, said Karen Tandy, administrator of the drug enforcement administration. The use of LSD is at its lowest level since the federal government began a survey of teen-age drug use 30 years ago.

LSD, known as acid, can cause hallucinations and delusions.

The percentage of teens who smoke cigarettes has fallen dramatically from the mid-1990s, the result of advertising campaigns and the rise in cigarette prices.

But the survey showed that, among 8th- and 10th-graders, the decline slowed significantly.

William V. Corr, executive director of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the numbers reflect a “lack of federal leadership on tobacco prevention” and decisions by cash-strapped states to cut their prevention program.

Johnston, the study’s director, said that despite progress in keeping teens from smoking, “one-quarter of our kids, by the end of high school, are smoking cigarettes.”