ILLICIT DRUGS: Teen Use Remains Stable From Last Year
Teen drug use remained steady since last year, with minor increases in ecstasy and steroid abuse and a slight decrease in crack cocaine use, according to the 25th annual HHS Monitoring the Future Survey of over 45,000 adolescents. The number of 12th graders using ecstasy over the past year rose from 3.6% to 5.6%, while the percentage of seniors who have tried the drug at least once during their lifetime jumped from 5.8% in 1998 to 8% in 1999. Past month use by 12th graders hit 2.5%, up from 1.5% last year. Among 10th graders, use increased from 3.3% to 4.4% (HHS release, 12/17). The so-called "club drug" is particularly popular at dance clubs and all-night parties called raves. University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnston said that "while the use of this drug had been declining since we first measured it in 1996, for some reason it made a resurgence in 1999"(Adams/Vise, Washington Post, 12/18). Teenage steroid use also showed a statistically significant change, with 2.5% of 8th grade males and 2.8% of 10th grade males reporting steroid consumption within the past year. Those figures are up from 1.6% and 1.9% respectively. Lifetime use by sophomore males rose from 2% last year to 2.7% this year, while past month use increased from .6% to .9%. Among 8th grade boys, .7% said they used steroids within the last month, compared to .5% in 1998 (HHS release, 12/17). "As many had feared, we think it likely that Mark McGwire's reported use of androstenedione in the year in which he set a new home run record affected young boys. Surely it gave them the idea that it could make them stronger," Johnston explained (Healy, Los Angeles Times/Washington Post Service/Wichita Eagle, 12/18).
Crack Use Declines, Pot RemainsAfter tripling between 1991 and 1998 to 2.1%, past year use of crack cocaine by 8th graders fell to 1.8%, and past month use among 10th graders dropped from 1.1% to 0.8%. Although lifetime, past year, past month and daily use of marijuana remained the same for all three grades, it is still the drug of choice for teens. 9.7% of 8th graders, 19.4% of 10th graders and 23.1% of 12th graders reported smoking pot. Use of other drugs including cocaine, cocaine other than crack, inhalants, heroin, hallucinogens, LSD, PCP, amphetamines, barbiturates and tranquilizers also was stable (HHS release, 12/17). This "report confirms that we have halted the dangerous trend of increased drug use among our young people. Our job now is to continue the momentum we have built up with local communities, parents and teachers," HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said (Ho, AP/San Francisco Examiner, 12/17).
Despite the positive results, however, researchers cautioned that teen rates of smoking and drinking are still troubling. "Alcohol use among all teenagers remains at unacceptably high levels," the report notes. Past month alcohol consumption in 1999 was 24% for 8th graders, 40% for sophomore and 51% for seniors. After dropping during 1998, the number of 10th graders who have "been drunk" in the past year increased from 38.3% to 40.9% (HHS release, 12/17). Smoking among teens also remained stable or even slightly decreased last year, but the numbers are still staggering. According to Johnston, "Over one-third of today's young people are active smokers by the time they leave high school. In fact, more than one in every six is an active smoker as early as eighth grade. These rates are well above smoking rates in the early '90s, when teen smoking began to increase substantially." Johnston concluded, "We are down some from the recent peak levels in overall illicit drug use by American teenagers ... but not much of that improvement occurred this year. I am hopeful that this is just a pause in a longer-term decline" (Washington Post, 12/18).