Maryland's adolescent drug plague continues to spread, as students take illicit drugs at an earlier age, drive drunk and resist drug education efforts, state officials say.
Despite several years of steady improvement, the 1992 Maryland Adolescent Drug Survey shows use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and other drugs at a disturbingly high level.
And substance abuse begins in middle school for many students, the survey found, forcing education officials to question the effectiveness of some drug education programs.
"For me, this survey is a negative indicator," said Nancy S. Grasmick, who released the survey yesterday at a statewide drug-free schools conference in College Park. "We should be declining in terms of the use of drugs."
The state survey comes on the heels of a national study by the University of Michigan earlier this month which found "modest but statistically significant" increases in the use of illicit drugs among 13- and 14-year-olds.
Among the findings in the state report, based on a sampling of 14,000 Maryland students in December:
* Maryland youngsters used cigarettes, marijuana and inhalants such as glue at higher percentages than students who responded to a 1991 nationwide survey sponsored by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Some 41.9 percent of Maryland's 12th-graders said they smoked cigarettes compared with 28.3 percent of the respondents in the national survey. Similarly, 27.6 percent of Maryland's 12th-graders said they used marijuana compared with 23.9 percent in the national survey. Some 7.7 percent of the 12th-grade respondents in the state survey said they used inhalants compared with 6.6 percent nationwide.
* Beer and wine remain the most widely abused substances for Maryland adolescents, with 72.2 percent of 12th-graders reporting their use in the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, the survey shows alarming evidence of binge drinking, and driving while intoxicated, among adolescents in the month preceding the survey. One in five students reported driving a car within an hour of consuming five or more drinks of alcohol, for example.
* Young adolescent cigarette use is up since 1988, a bad sign, health officials say, because cigarettes and alcohol are considered "gateway" drugs for students who go on to abuse other drugs. Some 3.6 percent of sixth-graders said they smoked in a 1988-1989 survey and that figure increased to 4.7 percent in 1992. Some 31.5 percent of 12th-graders said they smoked -- up from 24.1 percent in the 1988-1989 survey.
* Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug, and shows signs of rising. A total of 17.4 percent of 12th-graders said they used marijuana in the month before the survey, up from 13.7 percent in 1990. In all, 27.6 percent of 12th-graders said they used marijuana in the past year.
* Among younger students, inhalants, such as glue and the contents of aerosol cans, are the most commonly abused substances, aside from cigarettes and alcohol, with 4.6 percent of sixth-graders and 9.6 percent of eighth-graders reporting some use of inhalants.
No particular area of the state had a monopoly on adolescent drug abuse, though there were some regional differences. The Upper Shore, for example, posted the highest use of cigarettes, beer and wine, and marijuana of any section.
Though there were a few bright spots in the report -- the overall use of alcohol by eighth, 10th- and 12th-graders has dropped slightly from 1988 -- state officials are not celebrating the decline.
Most worrisome is the fact that more and more students are using dangerous drugs at an earlier age.
The median age for first-time users of all illicit drugs dropped to between 13 and 15 years, down from 14 to 17 years in the past, a change that worries officials. "This means that many of our adolescents are deciding if they're going to be significant drug users before they leave middle school," said Mrs. Grasmick.
Though drug education programs have made significant inroads among older students, Mrs. Grasmick said the survey results illustrate the need for better middle school drug education.
"We're going to re-examine our curriculum to look at what programs will deal with the real world," she said. "I don't think we've given as much attention to that."