The number of American teenagers using illegal drugs has dropped significantly in the past two years, the Washington Post reports. It was the first noteworthy decline in more than a decade. Only 17.3 percent of high school students reported they had used an illicit drug in the past month, down from 19.4 percent in 2001, said the federally supported “Monitoring the Future” survey. That translates into 400,000 fewer high school students using drugs.
Bush administration officials attributed the decline to more aggressive anti-drug advertising, more funds 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 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; although Bush has increased funding for addiction treatment, he has cut spending for prevention programs. “I’m pleased there is a drop, but two years does not make a trend,” said Herbert Kleber, 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 rose in the late 1970s and early 1980s, fell to 10.5 percent in 1992, rose again to a high of 20.6 percent in 1996, and hovered in that range until 2002.
Significant recent reductions came among teenagers who reported using marijuana and ecstasy, a chemical that behaves like a combination amphetamine/hallucinogen. “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, the lead author of the survey. Still, nearly half of all 12th-graders reported smoking marijuana at some time. Johnston credited ad campaigns 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.