Drug Use Drops Among Teens

Jan 15, 2003 12:48 PM EST

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A recent study shows decrease in teenage usage of illegal drugs and beverages. Officials accredit the National Organization for the Reform of Mariguana Laws' new offensive against the Bush administration's anti-drug policy with the decline.

The survey for the National Institute of drug abuse was dubbed, "Monitoring the Future," and was conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and tracks substance abuse among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders using a randomly selected sample of 44,000 students in 400 schools.

The major findings of the study showed an overall decrease of marijuana use in all age groups. 14.6 percent of eight graders used marijuana, down from the recent 18.3 percent peak in 1999. 30.3 percent of annual marijuana use for 10th graders is lower than the 34.8 percent use rate in 1997. The 36.2 percent of 12 grade marijuana users is lower than the 38.5 percent of users in 2002.

Alcohol consumption declined among 8th and 10th graders. Eighth-graders who said they had consumed alcohol in the previous year declined 3.2 percent; from 45.5 percent in 1996 to 38.7 percent this year. Among 10th graders, the decline was 3.5 percent.

The use of drugs other than marijuana in the previous year had dropped in all age groups. The use of drugs among eight graders is a third lower for eight graders than in 1996, and 15 percent lower among 10th graders since it's 1996 peak. This year, 0.7 percent of 12th graders who used to use other drugs last year did not use it this year.

Cigarette smokers had seen a massive decrease in eight graders, with the proportion of smokers dropping by half since 1996 to 10.7 percent from 21 percent. Preference in dating among eight graders changed as well, with 81 percent preferring nonsmoking partners.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' initiative against the Bush administration's anti-drug policy was launched after Scott Burns, deputy director for state and local affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control, said in a letter to the National District Attorney's Association that "marijuana is not harmless but has risen as a factor in emergency room visits 176 percent since 1964, surpassing heroin."

Keith Stroup, executive director of NORML, called the administration's stand against marijuana an "incredibly disgusting example of government propaganda."

"This war against marijuana smokers has become a jihad. It's a holy war for these [Bush administration] fools. Truth is a first victim of war," Stroup said.

Barrett Duke, vice president for research with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said those who are committed to the legalization of marijuana and other illicit drugs will see a threat to their own efforts in the trend of teenagers moving away from such substances.

"We can expect the drug war to heat up even more as those of us opposed to drug use step up our efforts to make sure the decline in drug use continues and those opposed to us do all they can to negate our efforts," Duke said. "Fortunately, it appears that the anti-drug forces have the upper hand. Consequently, NORML and others like them will be forced to wage this campaign on our terms, spending energy and resources combating our life-affirming messages rather than framing the debate and making us react to them.

"The clash of ideals will be severe, but we cannot back down now," Duke continued. "The lives and futures of millions of Americans are at stake. For their sake, we must continue to fight this war on drugs on every front."

Assessing the declines in drug usage among teens, Duke said, "No doubt there are many reasons for this decline, and perhaps no one knows all of them. However, I would suggest some factors that have helped to contribute to this decline. First, there has been an obvious increase in anti-drug messages. Today, anti-drug messages appear regularly in all media formats.

"Secondly, tightened national security related to the 9/11 attack on our nation is likely making it more difficult for drugs to enter the country. Third, we have a president whose life provides a positive role model for our young people. Teenagers who are affected by President Bush will embrace conservative values, which will tend to steer them away from drugs."

Another reason for the decline in substance use could be allotted to the emotional ties with 9/11. The Duke mentioned that after the events of Sept. 11, teenagers take life more seriously since the aftermath and subsequent international conflict had cast a shadow over all life in America.

"Perhaps, not since World War II have our young people been so deeply affected. They have come to understand in very brutal terms that all of life is not fun and games, and more of them are responding to the seriousness of life by taking more precautions about their own futures and well-being," said Duke.

By Pauline C.