Teen drug abuse down, study finds

Rate among all Americans has changed little in past 3 years, government reports

September 08, 2006|By Moises Mendoza | Moises Mendoza,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Fewer teenagers are abusing illegal drugs, although the rate of illicit drug use among all Americans has remained steady over the past three years, according to a government report released yesterday.

The proportion of youths ages 12 to 17 reporting that they had used illegal drugs - a category that includes marijuana and cocaine, but not alcohol or tobacco - in the previous month decreased by about 370,000, from 11.6 percent to a little less than 10 percent, between 2002 and 2005, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed.

Marijuana use declined in that age group from 8.2 percent to 6.8 percent in those three years, according to the report, which was released by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

"Twelve- to 17-year-olds are signaling a positive change in behavior that is broad, strong, continuing and affects both males and females," John P. Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a news conference announcing the results of the report.

As drug abuse among youths declined between 2002 and 2005, it increased during the same period among members of the baby boom generation, the report found. Last year, 4.4 percent of people in their 50s reported using illegal drugs in the previous month, up from 2.7 percent three years before.

As members of that generation get older, they are skewing the results because many have a higher risk of drug dependency stemming from drug abuse in 1960s and 1970s, said Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

The largest amount of illegal drug use was found in people ages 18 to 25, who traditionally have had the highest rate of drug abuse. Last year, 20.1 percent reported recent drug use, about the same as in 2002.

Overall, the rate of illicit drug use for people age 12 and older changed little, remaining about 8 percent, or 20 million people.

The report was based on a survey of more than 68,000 people in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Sample sizes ranged from 840 people in smaller states to more than 3,500 in more populous states.

Moises Mendoza writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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