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Decline in Marijuana Use Reported Among Seniors

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High-school seniors' use of marijuana and several other illicit drugs continued to decline in 1983, but the use of cocaine continues at "peak" levels, according to the results of a federally sponsored survey of more than 16,000 seniors in 130 public and private high schools.

The national survey also found that an "alarmingly" high proportion of seniors reported that they engaged in "binge drinking."

The survey, which has been administered annually since 1975, is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The latest in the series was conducted by Lloyd D. Johnston, Patrick O'Malley, and Jerald Bachman, psychologists at the University of Michigan.

In the surveys of the last five years, the proportion of students who reported using marijuana daily has decreased steadily to its 1983 level of 5.5 percent, the lowest level since the drug-abuse institute launched the survey nine years ago. The 1983 level is down half a percentage point from 1982 and is about 5 percentage points lower than in 1978, when the reported daily use of marijuana peaked at 10.7 percent of the students surveyed.

"Clearly, American young people have become more cautious about the regular use of marijuana," agency officials said in the survey report released earlier this month. "Much of this is attributable to their increased concern about the psychological and physical health effects of the drug."

The researchers found that last year 63 percent of seniors believed that regular marijuana smokers run a great risk of harming themselves physically or psychologically, while in 1978 only 35 percent expressed that view.

The report, "Drugs and American High School Students, 1975-1983," states that decreased availability of marijuana apparently does not explain the changes in the use of marijuana; 86 percent of the students said they could obtain the drug if they wanted it.

Barbiturate Use Down

Students also are using other drugs--including amphetamines, barbiturates, methaqualone, and lsd--less often, the survey found. The decrease in barbiturate usage continues a long-term decline that began in 1975, when the proportion of students who said they had used barbiturates in the last year was more than twice as high as its 1983 level of 5 percent.

But not all drugs were found in the most recent survey to be used less frequently, and the researchers caution against concluding that the problem of adolescent drug abuse is over.

"We have experienced a leveling, and the beginning of a decline, in youthful drug involvement," said Mr. Johnston, "but we must not lose sight of the extent of the problem which remains."

The level of students' use of heroin and other opiates has remained virtually unchanged since 1979, as has their use of cocaine, the survey indicates. Of the seniors surveyed in 1983, one in six (16 percent) had used cocaine; 9 percent had used opiates other than heroin; and 1.2 percent had used heroin.

About 40 percent of seniors in 1983 said they had tried an illicit drug other than marijuana--approximately the same level as in 1979.

Alcohol and Cigarettes

The seniors' levels of alcohol and tobacco use changed only slightly from 1982.

Drinking patterns have stayed the same since 1975, according to the annual surveys, with 69 percent of the students reporting that they had used alcohol during the month preceding the survey.

"Binge drinking," which showed a slight decline in 1982, remained at an "alarmingly" high level, the re-searchers said of the latest survey; 41 percent of the students reported having five or more drinks in a row at some time during the two weeks prior to the survey.

The rate of cigarette smoking among high-school seniors did not change between 1982 and 1983.

Since the first survey in 1975, the proportion of seniors who reported they smoked cigarettes every day has dropped from 26.9 percent to 21.2 percent. In 1980, the survey reported a sharp decline in daily cigarette smoking--from 25.4 percent in 1979 to 21.3 percent. Since 1980, the proportion of high-school seniors who said they smoked daily has remained at about 21 percent.

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