HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Fewer Teens Report They Abuse Drugs
Pubdate: Sat, 20 Dec 2003
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A01
Copyright: 2003 The Washington Post Company
Author: Ceci Connolly, Washington Post Staff Writer
Note: Marsha Rosenbaum was seriously misquoted in this front page article.
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Decline Is Attributed to Ads and Crackdowns

The number of American teenagers using illegal drugs fell markedly
over the past two years, the first noteworthy decline in more than a
decade, according to government data released yesterday.

The percentage of high school students who reported they had used an
illicit drug in the past month fell to 17.3 percent this year, down
from 19.4 percent in 2001, according to the comprehensive "Monitoring
the Future" survey. That translates into 400,000 fewer high school
students using drugs.

Although they cannot be certain, Bush administration officials
attributed the decline to more aggressive and targeted anti-drug
advertising, additional money for treatment and a drop in supply
caused by law enforcement crackdowns.

"This survey shows that when we push back against the drug problem, it
gets smaller," said John P. Walters, director of the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Fewer teens are using drugs
because of the deliberate and serious messages they have received
about the dangers of drugs."

Other analysts cautioned that drug use is cyclic and that the survey
may understate the problem because it relies on young people to report
their own illegal behavior. And although President Bush has increased
funding for addiction treatment, he has cut spending for prevention

"I'm pleased there is a drop, but two years does not make a trend,"
said Herbert Kleber, professor of psychiatry and director of the
division on substance abuse at Columbia University. "I would like to
see the shape of the curve over the next couple years to see whether
this is a blip."

Since researchers began surveying eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders in
1975, teenage drug use has followed a roller coaster path. After
climbing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, usage slowly fell to 10.5
percent in 1992. The rate rose again to a high of 20.6 percent in 1996
and persistently hovered in that range until 2002.

Some of the biggest reductions came among teenagers who reported using
marijuana and ecstasy, a chemical that behaves like a combination

"Marijuana use has held stubbornly high in the upper grades until now,
and ecstasy was the only drug showing sharp increases," said
University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnston, who was the lead
author of the survey. Still, nearly half of all 12th-graders reported
smoking marijuana at some time.

Johnston's report credited ad campaigns specifically aimed at
discouraging use of those two drugs and growing media attention to the
reported risks of taking ecstasy. Some of the most familiar ads link
drug use to terrorism through messages such as, "I helped kill a judge
in Colombia" by purchasing illegal drugs.

Marsha Rosenbaum, director of the San Francisco office of the liberal
Drug Policy Alliance, saw other possible explanations. Often, she
said, teenagers change their behavior after directly experiencing or
observing the ramifications of drug use up close. She speculated that
young people stopped using ecstasy when they saw friends die as a result.

Georgetown University psychiatry professor Robert DuPont praised Bush
and Walters for aggressively opposing state initiatives to legalize
marijuana for medical use. Such initiatives have served to "normalize
drug use," he argued.

DuPont, who ran the White House drug policy office under Presidents
Nixon, Ford and Carter, said proponents of medical marijuana won
virtually every campaign in 1996, 1998 and 2000 but lost in every
state contest they entered in 2002. "John [Walters] went out and made
that happen," he said.

This year, "Monitoring the Future" surveyed nearly 50,000 students in
392 high schools across the nation. The anonymous survey, which covers
more than a dozen drugs, in addition to alcohol and tobacco, asks
young people whether they have ever used each product or used it in
the past month. The approach is meant to capture current and previous
drug users.

Although LSD use had been declining, Walters suggested the steeper
drop in the last two years was the result of a bust in 2000 in Oregon.
Police seized the equivalent of 20 million doses of LSD.

"We didn't realize that LSD production was so centralized," he

Researchers found no real change in the number of teenagers who
reported using cocaine, heroin or alcohol, though binge drinking
dipped slightly. More junior high students reported using less
expensive, more readily available inhalants such as glue, paint
thinner and aerosols. And officials remain concerned about improper
use of oxycontin, a narcotic that is prescribed as a pain reliever but
has become a popular recreational drug.

"Considering the addictive potential of this drug, these are
disturbingly high rates of use," said Johnston. Oxycontin was added to
the survey in 2002, and the number of children in all three grades who
reported taking the drug has risen.

Researchers remain divided over the most accurate way to measure the
nation's drug problem. DuPont said tracking drug usage is the clearest
indication, but Rosenbaum and others say rising crime rates, drug
overdoses and the number of addicted prison inmates suggest the
situation is much more complicated. 
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