December 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Survey Of Adolescent Drug Use Finds First Bright Spot Since ‘92 Eighth-Graders’ Responses Particularly Encouraging

Christopher S. Wren New York Times
 

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 Saturday, 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, 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 teenagers 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 Saturday, saying that the increasing rates of teenage 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 refute 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.”

The Monitoring the Future survey annually tracks drug use by successive cohorts, or peer groups, of adolescents in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades. The principal researcher, Lloyd Johnston, said the findings were more complex this year, because not all drug use had moved in the same direction and not all grade levels showed the same shifts.

xxxx Survey findings Among the findings of the University of Michigan’s 23rd annual “Monitoring the Future Survey”: For the first time since 1991, the percentage of eighth-graders disapproving of occasional use of marijuana increased, to 78.1 percent from 76.5 percent last year. Disapproval of regular marijuana use, occasional cocaine powder use, heavy drinking and frequent cigarette smoking also increased. 54.3 percent of high school seniors, 47.3 percent of 10th-graders and 29.4 percent of eighth-graders said they have used an illicit drug at least once in their lives. Marijuana remains the most widely used drug among adolescents, with the percentage of 10th- and 12th-grade students who’ve tried it at least once increasing in the past year. Daily marijuana use by eighth-graders decreased to 1.1 percent from 1.5 percent in 1996, while daily use among high school seniors increased to 5.8 percent from 4.9 percent last year. Cocaine use remained level for eighth- and 10th-graders, but the percentage of 12th-graders who have used any form of cocaine at least once increased from 7.1 percent in 1996 to 8.7 percent this year - the highest rate since 1990. Eighth-graders also showed a decrease in the number of times they got drunk over the past 30 days, but drinking increased for older teens.


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