Research shows drug use leveling off among the young Survey confirms alcohol bigger problem with teens


Though older high school students are reportedly still smoking marijuana in increasing numbers, their flirtation with other illegal drugs appears to be slowing, and drug use among eighth-graders has stopped climbing for the first time in more than five years.

The findings, compiled by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Mich., and announced by President Clinton yesterday, offered the first encouraging evidence since 1992 that adolescent drug use, which started rebounding months before Clinton moved into the White House, could be leveling off.

Among the 18,600 eighth-graders interviewed for the survey, called Monitoring the Future, 29.4 percent said they had tried an illegal drug, usually marijuana, at least once, compared with 31.2 percent last year and 28.5 percent in 1995.

"What's happening is that eighth-graders are beginning to get ,, very clear messages, first from their parents, then from their teachers and from the rest of us, that these drugs are dangerous," Donna Shalala, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said on Friday at an advance briefing at the White House.

The eighth-graders in the survey also expressed somewhat more disapproval of drug users than their predecessors did last year. Such attitudes are significant as a harbinger of drug use in subsequent years.

The survey confirmed that alcohol remained a bigger problem among teen-agers than illegal drugs. Thirty-one percent of high school seniors, 25 percent of sophomores and 15 percent of eighth-graders admitted to binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row, on one occasion or more in the previous two weeks. That is well below the peak year of 1983, when 41 percent of seniors said that they had become drunk in the previous two weeks.

Clinton cited the survey in his weekly radio address yesterday, saying that the increasing rates of teen-age drug use were leveling off and, in some cases, decreasing.

"Today's eighth-graders are less likely to have used drugs over the past year, and just as important, they are more likely to disapprove of drug use," the president said. "This change in attitudes represents a glimmer of hope in our efforts to protect our children from drugs. But our work is far from over."

The findings will also help Clinton rebut Republican criticism that he has allowed adolescent drug use to soar in his White House tenure. In its latest drug-fighting measure, his administration has budgeted $195 million for an advertising campaign on television and radio and in print to discourage adolescents from using illegal drugs. The national blitz will get under way next month.

"Our goal," Clinton said, "is to make sure that every time a child turns on the TV, listens to the radio or surfs the Internet, he or she will get the powerful message that drugs can destroy your life."

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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