Pubdate: Tue, 17 Dec 2002
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2002 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: David Ho, Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON - Smoking, drinking and drug use among eighth-graders has fallen 
sharply in recent years, with marijuana use at its lowest level since 1994 
and half as many youngsters reporting they use cigarettes, according to a 
survey of students released Monday. Monitoring the Future, an annual survey 
of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders done for the Department of Health and 
Human Services, found declines in drug, alcohol and tobacco use for all age 

"Teen drug use is once again headed in the right direction -- down," said 
John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control 
Policy. "This survey confirms that our drug-prevention efforts are working 
and that when we work together and push back, the drug problem gets smaller."

The report, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, surveyed 44,000 
students from 394 schools. They were asked about their experiences and 
feelings about alcohol and drugs.

Lloyd Johnston, who directed the study by the University of Michigan 
Institute for Social Research, said the findings among eighth-graders are 
particularly heartening because children who say no to drugs, smoking or 
alcohol early on carry that attitude into adulthood.

Government health officials credited campaigns to educate children about 
the dangers of drugs with helping foster the decline.

Johnston said the terrorist attacks may also have contributed to the 
falling numbers, particularly a decline in drinking this year across all 
the age groups.

"The tragedy of 9-11 had a sobering effect on the country's young people," 
Johnston said.

Despite the broad decline, teen use of heroin, cocaine and steroids 
remained fairly steady this year. Among high school seniors, there were 
slight increases in the use of sedatives and tranquilizers. Crack use was 
up slightly among 10th-graders.

The most dramatic declines were seen in teen smoking.

Smoking rates for eighth-graders have been cut in half since 1996 with 
those teens who said they smoked in the last month falling from 21 percent 
to 10.7 percent. Among 10th-graders, the decline was almost as large, and 
for high school seniors, the smoking rate fell by one-quarter to one-third.

Johnston said many factors may explain the decline, including higher 
tobacco prices, less cigarette advertising reaching young people and 
negative publicity about smoking and the tobacco industry.

He noted that the proportion of eighth-graders saying they prefer to date 
people who don't smoke rose to 81 percent from 71 percent in 1996. The 
other grades saw similar increases.

"Taking up smoking makes a youngster less attractive to the great majority 
of the opposite sex, just the opposite of what cigarette advertising has 
been promising all these years," he said. "It may be the most compelling 
argument for why they should abstain from smoking."

The survey found that teen use of Ecstasy, a synthetic drug that became 
popular over the past decade at dance parties called "raves," began to 
decline significantly for the first time this year. All three grades saw 
declines, but the biggest drop was among 10th-graders, with the proportion 
of those teens reporting Ecstasy use during the past year falling from 6.2 
percent to 4.9 percent.

The researchers said one reason for the decline is a growing awareness 
among teens about the dangers of Ecstasy, which has been linked to damage 
to the brain, heart and kidneys.

Johnston warned that the nation's focus on terrorism and a possible with 
war with Iraq could lead to a reversal of the downward trend. Drug use rose 
in the years after the 1991 Persian Gulf War when there was less emphasis 
on educating children about drugs, he said.

Among the other findings:

- -- The proportion of eighth-graders who said they used an illegal drug 
during the past year fell to 17.7 percent, down from 19.5 percent the year 
before and a high of 23.6 in 1996. Drug use over the past year among 
10th-graders also fell since 2001 -- from 37.2 percent to 34.8 percent -- 
while use among high school seniors remained relatively steady around 41 

- -- Alcohol use among eighth- and 10th-graders reached the lowest level 
since the survey began studying those grades in 1991.

- -- The proportion of eighth-graders who said they used marijuana during 
past year fell to 14.6 percent, the lowest rate since it was 13 percent in 
1994 and well below a peak of 18.3 percent in 1996.

- -- The survey studied abuse of the prescription painkiller OxyContin for 
the first time and found that 1.3 percent of eight-graders, 3 percent of 
10th-graders and 4 percent of 12th-graders reported using the drug in the 
last year.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom