Drug use is again rising among teens, survey finds

April 14, 1993|By Ronald J. Ostrow | Ronald J. Ostrow,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Drug-use among eighth-graders increased unexpectedly last year -- a development that may be a warning to the nation of the human cost of shifting attention from the war on drugs, according to a respected University of Michigan study released yesterday.

The annual survey of nearly 50,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students nationwide found that 13- and 14-year-olds reported "modest but statistically significant" increases from 1991 and 1992 in the use of marijuana, cocaine, crack, LSD, other hallucinogens, stimulants and inhalants.

The survey also found that the use of LSD among high school seniors last year reached its highest level since 1985. But use of illicit drugs by seniors continued to decline overall, indicating progress in reducing drug use among young Americans, according to Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator for the study.

"But we may now be in danger of losing some of that hard-won ground as a new, more naive generation of youngsters enters adolescence and as society eases up on its many communications to young people of all ages about drugs," Mr. Johnston said.

"As each new generation of students is about to enter high school, they need to understand that alcohol and other drug abuse can put their futures and their lives at stake," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

The University of Michigan study, paid for by a $3 million grant from HHS's National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the increased use of drugs among eighth-graders may be tied to a change in their perception of the dangers of the drugs.

"The drug abuse issue has pretty much 'fallen off the screen' in this country, both figuratively and literally," Mr. Johnston said. The number of eighth-graders who said they had used marijuana at least once in their lifetimes rose from 10.2 percent in 1991 to 11.2 percent in 1992.

The study found a similar increase in the number of eighth-graders who reported using the drug over the last year, from 6.2 percent in 1991 to 7.2 percent in 1992. Those who said they had used cocaine once in their lifetime rose from 2.3 percent to 2.9 percent.

Some authorities disagreed that the upturn in eighth-grade drug use reflected a shift in national attention away from the drug problem.

Mark Kleiman, a drug expert at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the survey reflects "policies of the last five years. Kids have overdosed on anti-drug messages. This is coming at the end of the 12 most hysterical years in American drug policy.

"LSD may be a prime example of generational forgetting, since it was perhaps the first drug in the epidemic of the past 25 years to decline as a result of concerns about its consequences," Mr. Johnston said. "Today's youngsters don't hear what an earlier generation heard --that LSD causes bad trips, flashbacks, schizophrenia, brain damage, chromosomal damage and so on."

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