Fewer teens abusing most common drugs

But use of Ecstasy doubles in 4 years, state survey finds

September 26, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Fewer Maryland youths are abusing alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, but teen-age use of the drug Ecstasy has almost doubled during the past four years, according to a survey released yesterday by state educators.

"The 2001 survey brings us very good news," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "But even when the news is good, we have to be vigilant and cautious ... waiting for the next drug or debilitating behavior to creep around the corner."

The percentage of sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders who reported using the most common drugs - alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana - declined in every category except eighth-grade marijuana use compared with two years ago, according to the survey.

Despite the declines - and the fact that drug and alcohol abuse by youths in Maryland is generally lower than the national average - local educators said they're worried that the percentages are as high as they are.

Almost half of Maryland's 12th-graders reported drinking alcohol during the 30 days before the survey, and almost a third reported binge-drinking during that period - having five or more servings of alcohol at a time.

Among eighth-graders, more than 10 percent reported smoking marijuana during the past month and more than 22 percent reported drinking alcohol.

"We have seen significant decreases over our 1998 survey, but we still have a lot of work to do," said Tina G. Henry, Caroline County's director of pupil services.

The Maryland Adolescent Survey was given to more than 34,500 students in 298 schools across the state in April, with 80 percent responding. It asked students about their use of such substances as cigarettes, alcohol, LSD, marijuana, crack, Ritalin and steroids, as well as their knowledge of those drugs, the availability of them and their views on safety in their schools.

The survey calls for a random sample of students to fill out surveys in schools, with the promise of confidentiality. Though state officials acknowledge it might not be the most accurate way to track drug use, the survey is conducted in a similar fashion nationally, and small shifts in the numbers can indicate trends in drug and alcohol abuse.

Educators said they're worried about an increase in student use of Ecstasy, which is a mixture of stimulant and hallucinogen that is taken as a pill. Since 1996, the number of 12th-graders who reported taking the drug during the past 30 days rose from 2.7 percent to 4.8 percent - similar to an increase that has occurred nationally.

"That is our current challenge," said Lynn E. Linde, the state education department's chief of student services and alternative programs. "We're trying to tell students about the dangers of Ecstasy because they don't perceive Ecstasy is dangerous."

In the survey, students were asked about whether they think their parents approve of drug and alcohol abuse.

Not surprisingly, students who reported abusing alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were far more likely to believe that their parents would approve of such drugs.

Local officials said yesterday that the declines in drug and alcohol abuse would encourage them to continue their education programs.

"We take this very seriously," said Patricia Green, Prince George's County's associate superintendent for pupil services. "In Prince George's, the use of Ecstasy is lower than the state average because we have taken a very aggressive approach to it."

Youth drug use

Maryland students in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades were asked last spring whether they had used tobacco, alcohol or other drugs during the past 30 days. The numbers answering yes are reported as percentages.

Sixth Eighth 10th 12th

Cigarettes 2.5 10.6 16.6 25.5

Alcohol 6.3 22.8 35.9 47.5

Marijuana 1.2 10.6 19.8 22.7

Ecstasy* 0.4 2.4 4.8 4.8

Any drug other

than alcohol, tobacco 4.5 15.2 24.3 28.2

*Includes other "designer" drugs Source: Maryland State Dept. of Education

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