Demographics and drugs Teen drug abuse: With demographic bulge, current usage rates will bring big trouble.

January 09, 1996

NOT SINCE THE baby boom generation has the nation been home to such large numbers of young people. That earlier demographic bulge made an indelible dent on culture and politics, so it is not surprising that policy makers are already sizing up this echo -- or boomerang -- of the boom years to determine what effects we can expect in the coming years.

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee's International Narcotics Control Caucus offered an analysis of the impact of demographics on drug use. A sample: In order to make sure that the number of high school seniors who are abusing drugs does not increase in the next 25 years, we will have to see a drop of at least 16 percent in the current rate of drug use.

The adolescent years have always held dangers for young people. Drugs, alcohol and premature parenthood can all create unfortunate detours in the path toward self-sufficiency and productive citizenship. Drug abuse is frequently a factor in criminal activity -- and crime rates are highly sensitive to demographics.

In recent years, as the homicide rate decreased by 20 percent for people 25 and older, it increased by 65 percent among 18 to 24 year olds. And despite the fact that males between the ages of 14 and 24 represent a small percentage of the population, they commit almost half of all murders. Combine the pernicious influence of drug abuse with the fact that young people are more likely to commit violent crimes than older people, and it becomes clear that unless America's on-again, off-again war on drugs gets a swift boost, the coming years could also see some scary trends in criminal behavior.

Even in an era of tight-fisted government spending, there is a need for taxpayer funding for drug treatment and prevention programs. Yet these government efforts are but a partial solution. A successful fight against drugs and crime also depends on public attitudes toward drug use and crime, as well as on the ability to bring together all parts of the community -- from schools, churches and neighborhood organizations to families, health care organizations and businesses -- to ensure that young people know the dangers of drugs and see attractive alternatives.

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