Teen-agers and Drugs

April 25, 1993

For several years, Americans frustrated by a floundering war on drugs could take comfort in reports of falling drug use among the nation's teen-agers. This year the study's results weren't so comforting. Among eighth-graders -- 13- and 14-year-olds -- the use of marijuana, cocaine and LSD is on the rise.

The percentages are still small; of 18,000 eighth-graders, only 1.5 percent acknowledged they had used cocaine and 2.5 percent admitted to using LSD or other hallucinogens. But both figures represent increases of about 30 percent over the previous year's survey, a significant difference in proportion.

At the same time, many drug treatment facilities around the country report an increase in adolescent cases, and waiting lists are growing. Is this a blip, or does it indicate a more troubling shift in youthful behavior?

Drug use among teens this young is especially troubling, since ++ the effects could stunt their physical, academic and social development. At ages 13 and 14, youngsters are in many ways more vulnerable than they are at 18 or even 16.

No one can pinpoint the reason people turn to illegal substances. But it doesn't take a scientific survey to tell us that young Americans don't live in an idyllic world.

Families with a parent at home are almost becoming rarities, and alarming numbers of children report that they spend a lot of time at home with no adult present. Adults are increasingly less important as role models as they become absent from their children's lives. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that teachers are reporting more violence and less respect for authority among their pupils.

By the end of the decade, the nation will see a 13 percent increase in the number of 13- to 19-year-olds, or 3.2 million more than in 1990. That projection represents a challenge in everything from school policies to juvenile services programs. Those problems will be even more severe if it turns out that the new figures on drug use are the beginning of an ominous trend.

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