Drug use among teens rises 105% in 3 years Dole says drug war will be No. 1 priority if elected


WASHINGTON -- Teen drug use rose an alarming 105 percent between 1992 and 1995, the government reported yesterday.

Experts blamed everyone from parents to the media for decreased vigilance in the drug war since the late 1980s, when aggressive drug-fighting efforts appeared to be pushing usage lower in every segment of American society.

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, released by the Department of Health and Human Services, also found that:

Youth drug use rose 24 percent between 1994 and 1995, and an estimated 10.4 percent of youths ages 12 to 17 used illicit drugs on a monthly basis in 1995.

Monthly marijuana use among youths is up 105 percent since 1992, and 37 percent between 1994 and 1995.

Monthly use of LSD and other hallucinogens is up 183 percent since 1992, and rose 54 percent between 1994 and 1995.

Monthly cocaine use rose 166 percent between 1994 and 1995.

The news drew a quick reaction from Bob Dole, who promised to make fighting drugs his first priority if elected president.

"This is nothing short of a national tragedy," the GOP presidential candidate said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Louisville, Ky. "Starting next January, I'm going to make the drug war priority No. 1 once again."

Dole, trying to use the drug issue to gain ground in his uphill election race, promised to hold a White House Summit on Drug Abuse next January if he's elected.

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, joined by Barry R. McCaffrey, the national drug control policy director, rejected the Republican criticism yesterday, calling teen drug abuse an urgent, bipartisan issue that every adult must help solve.

"Kids don't know yet whether they're Republican or Democratic," she said at a news briefing. "We must let them know that using drugs is like sky-diving without a parachute -- that there is no soft landing at the end."

Today, more teens are smoking marijuana, and sampling cocaine and heroin at "astounding" rates, McCaffrey said. What's worse, he said, many believe these drugs are not addictive, and fewer have a negative view of drug use than youths did in the '70s and '80s.

Shalala and McCaffrey also released data yesterday from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), an HHS division, that underscored the sharp rise in drug use by teens. The network monitors the number and pattern of drug-related emergencies in 21 major metropolitan areas.

The most current DAWN figures for 1995 found that for youths ages 12 to 17:

Marijuana-related emergency room problems rose 96 percent since 1992.

Emergency room admissions for heroin use rose 58 percent from 1992 to 1995.

Cocaine-related admissions rose 19 percent from 1992.

"Drug exposure in American now starts in the sixth grade," McCaffrey said. "It's not enough to have [an anti-drug] program, or a yearly anti-drug lecture. We need consistent effort, from kindergarten through the 12th grade."

One expert thinks partisan sniping only delays solutions.

"We don't get very far as a nation when we lay blame instead of focusing our energies on youths," said Lloyd Johnston, chief researcher on an earlier University of Michigan study on teen drug use.

Johnston thinks that in the '90s, parents, communities and legislators "dropped the ball" in teaching young people about the dangers of drug abuse.

"The drug issue fell off the national screen at around the time of the Gulf War, and it never really got back on," Johnston said. There are fewer public service announcements, campaigns and school-based programs than during the '70s and '80s, he said.

Some baby boomer parents are ambivalent about warning their kids about drugs when they sampled them themselves. Johnston says that shouldn't stop them.

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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