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Study: Teen Drug Use Rises

Dec. 15, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After declining for almost a decade, teen-age drug use is on the rise in the 1990s. Among the possible reasons: Many of today's parents tried illegal drugs themselves and may feel awkward warning their children away from them.

An annual survey released Friday found that teen-age drug use has risen steadily since 1992, raising fears that the dramatic drop in drug use in the 1980s will eventually be wiped out.

Marijuana use among eighth-graders has nearly doubled since 1991, with 20 percent saying they have used it at least once. That's up from 17 percent just one year earlier.

More than 48 percent of high school seniors in the class of 1995 had used some type of illegal drug at least once, up almost 3 percentage points from 1994. Seniors' drug use hit its lowest level in the 21-year-old survey in 1992, when under 41 percent said they had ever tried an illegal drug. Despite the upward trend, today's high school students remain much less likely to try illegal drugs than people who were in school during the 1970s or 1980s, said a director of the ``Monitoring the Future'' study.

In an era when so many parents -- including even President Clinton -- have tried marijuana, some may feel awkward giving their children strong anti-drug lectures, said Lloyd D. Johnston, principal investigator for the University of Michigan study. Most of them ``do not want their children involved in drugs, marijuana or otherwise, but many have fallen silent on the issues because they feel quite conflicted about it,'' Johnston said. Nevertheless, he said, it's critical that these parents warn their children of the hazards.

What should they say? Johnston said they can make several points: When they were young, less was known about the dangers of drugs. Many children and teens now begin using drugs at a younger age, which carries more risks. And drugs widely available today are stronger and more addictive.

Also, the threats of AIDS and violent crime make drug use and drinking more dangerous, said Donna Shalala, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Another explanation for the increase, Johnston said, is a decline in news coverage and public service advertisements to educate teens about the dangers of drugs since the end of Nancy Reagan's ``Just Say No'' campaign and President Bush's ``war on drugs.'' Johnston also accused rock and rap songs of promoting drug use.

Shalala called for ``a broad national effort,'' including parents, teachers, coaches, clergy and the government, to teach young people about the hazards of drugs.

``Or else,'' she said, ``in a few years, we're going to find ourselves right back where we were in the old days, when children and teen-agers viewed drug, alcohol and tobacco use as perfectly normal and acceptable behavior.''

She noted that more than 64 percent of high school seniors said they had smoked a cigarette, up more than 2 percentage points from the year before.

Both the Clinton administration and Republican congressional leaders blamed the opposition's policies for making the problem worse.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, criticized the administration's ``ineffectual leadership and failed federal policies.''

Shalala blasted the Republicans for cutting spending on federal drug treatment and prevention efforts and on a school-based anti-drug program.

Drug use among teen-agers peaked around 1980, when about 65 percent of high school seniors said they had used an illegal drug, Johnston said.

More than 50,000 students were surveyed last spring for the 21st annual national study. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Other findings:

--Nearly one in 20 high school seniors uses marijuana daily.

--Among eighth-graders, 21 percent said they had used an illegal drug during the 12 months before the survey.

--The percentage of high school seniors who have tried LSD increased from 6.9 percent last year to 8.4 percent.

For drug prevention information from the government, parents can

call 1-800-729-6686.

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