'More than warning signal,' teen drug use again climbs

February 01, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Illicit drug use by teen-agers increased significantly between 1992 and 1993, driven by a dramatic rise in the use of marijuana and increases in the use of stimulants, LSD and inhalants, federal officials announced yesterday.

The findings indicate a striking reversal of the downward patterns seen in recent years, they said.

"These findings are more than a warning signal," Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala said at a news conference to announce the results of the annual survey of nearly 50,000 eighth- , 10th- and 12th-grade students nationwide. "They are an urgent alarm we must heed at once."

To convey the growing sense of urgency, three Cabinet officers -- Ms. Shalala, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley and Office of Drug Control Policy chief Lee P. Brown -- announced the results of the annual survey together and pledged to step up efforts to alter the trend.

Ms. Shalala said she plans to contact the presidents of broadcast networks, film studios, record companies and professional sports leagues to urge them "to rededicate themselves to getting the message out about prevention."

Mr. Brown said he will convene a national meeting of experts in prevention and drug education to confront the problem of drug abuse by young people.

"Drug use among American young people has been making a clear comeback in the past two years," said Lloyd Johnston, the University of Michigan research scientist who conducted the survey. He said that the nation had "been lulled into a false sense of security" by the declining numbers in previous years.

William J. Bennett, who first headed the drug policy office during the Bush administration, immediately blamed the Clinton administration for the increases.

"Although we still have a serious drug problem in America, the Clinton administration has been nearly invisible on the drug issue," he said.

"The administration's most prominent voice on drugs has been Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and her favorable words about drug legalization," Mr. Bennett said. He was referring to Dr. Elders' suggestion that the issue of drug legalization should be studied further.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the reversal of the downward trend in drug use "is a disturbing finding and emphasizes the need for immediate action in fighting both drugs and crime."

The increases "are in part the result of an erosion of anti-drug attitudes by youth," said Richard A. Millstein, acting director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Now more than ever, we need to counter erroneous messages that glamorize the use of illicit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes."

The survey findings cut across all socio-economic levels and showed that "contrary to conventional wisdom," black students reported the lowest rates of use for virtually all drugs, Mr. Johnston said.

According to the survey, which has been sponsored annually since 1975 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the percentage of high school seniors who reported using an illicit drug at least once in their lives increased from 40.7 percent in 1992 to 42.9 percent in 1993, but still remained well below the peak level of 65.6 percent recorded in 1981, the report said. Nevertheless, the 1993 increase reverses a downward trend of use by 12th-graders that began in 1981.

The use of illicit drugs in the past year by seniors increased from 27.1 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 1993 after steadily declining from a peak of 54.2 percent in 1979. Those seniors who said they used an illicit drug within the past month increased from 14.4 percent in 1992 to 18.3 percent in 1993.

The survey also showed that the legal drugs -- alcohol and cigarettes -- were still the most widely used among the nation's youth at all grade levels.

Two-thirds of eighth-graders and nearly nine-tenths of seniors have tried alcohol, the report said, while a quarter of the eighth-graders and half of the seniors used alcohol in the month before the survey.

The report said there also were increases in the use of LSD, inhalants and stimulants among teen-agers between 1992 and 1993.

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