Pubdate: Sun, 21 Dec 2003
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2003 The Sun-Times Co.
Author: Mark Sherman, Associated Press


WASHINGTON -- American teenagers are cutting back on their use of illicit 
drugs and cigarettes, but alcohol consumption is holding steady, the 
government says.

An annual survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders done for the Health and 
Human Services Department found declines in use of many kinds of drugs by 
high school students, especially for Ecstasy and LSD.

Overall, the Bush administration said the annual survey funded by the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse showed an 11 percent drop in illegal drug 
use in the last two years, slightly surpassing President Bush's goal of a 
10 percent reduction during that period.

The survey, known as Monitoring the Future, tracked drug use and attitudes 
among 48,500 students from 392 schools.

There was one troubling sign: slowing declines in the use of certain drugs 
by eighth-graders -- and a slight increase in their use of inhalants, said 
Lloyd D. Johnston, who directed the study by the University of Michigan's 
Institute for Social Research.

In addition, there was an overall increase in the illicit use of the 
synthetic painkillers OxyContin and vicodin, reflective of patterns seen in 
the general population.

The survey showed a different picture of drug use from another poll of 
teens that also is used to measure the effectiveness of White House drug 
control policy. A private study by Pride Surveys in September showed 
illegal drug use and cigarette smoking among sixth-through 12th-graders 
increased slightly during the last school year compared with the year before.

But both surveys agreed that marijuana remains by far the most widely used 
illegal drug. Monitoring the Future reported that it had been tried at 
least once by 46 percent of 12th-graders and used by more than a third in 
the last year. Both numbers showed a decrease over last year.

"More kids are seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than all other 
drugs combined," John Walters, director of the White House Office of 
National Drug Control Policy, said at a news conference.

Johnston and administration officials offered differing explanations for 
the decline in use of Ecstasy and LSD. Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a 
synthetic drug considered part hallucinogen and part amphetamine. The drug 
became popular at dance parties, but it has harmful side effects. It can 
lead to brain, heart and kidney damage. Johnston said teens now are more 
aware of the risks of Ecstasy.

The percentage of teens who smoke cigarettes has fallen dramatically from 
the mid-1990s, the result of advertising campaigns and the rise in 
cigarette prices.

But the survey showed that, among eighth- and 10th-graders, the decline 
slowed significantly. Johnston, the study's director, said that despite 
progress in keeping teens from smoking, "one-quarter of our kids, by the 
end of high school, are smoking cigarettes."