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Drug Use Among Teen-Agers Continues To Drop, Survey Shows

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The use of illicit drugs among the nation's teen-agers has continued to decline from the peak levels of the late 1970's, according to the federal government's annual survey of 16,000 seniors at public and private schools across the country.

The proportion of high-school seniors who said they were "currently'' using an illicit drug, meaning they had used one in the past 30 days, dropped to 29 percent in 1984, the lowest level since 1975 when the survey was initiated. The comparable figure last year was 33 percent, down from a peak of 39 percent in 1978 and 1979.

Between 1982 and 1984, the proportion of seniors who reported ever having tried an illicit drug fell from 65 percent to 62 percent.

Among the drugs whose use was charted were marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines. Alcohol was not considered an illicit drug in the survey.

Released this month by Margaret M. Heckler, Secretary of Health and Human Services, the survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an hhs agency. It has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

"We want to emphasize that that these downturns have been gradual and have started from an inordinately high level of drug involvement among young people," said Lloyd D. Johnson, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan and the primary investigator for the survey, in a statement. "I do see reason to be optimistic about the direction things are going, given our discernable progress to date."

In an interview, Mr. Johnson nonetheless termed drug and alcohol abuse among the nation's youths still "a substantial problem."

Marijuana Use Drops

Five percent of those polled said they were daily smokers of marijuana, the lowest percentage ever recorded by the survey and less than half of the 11 percent noted in the peak year of 1978.

While 55 percent of the seniors reported that they had used marijuana at some time, 25 percent said they were current users, compared with 27 percent last year and 37 percent in 1978.

"While most seniors do not view experimental or occasional use of marijuana as particularly risky, between one-half to two-thirds of all seniors personally disapprove of these behaviors," Mr. Johnson said. ''In addition, substantially fewer are finding themselves surrounded by friends who are users."

The survey also showed continuing declines in the use of stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers, as well as in the use of lsd (lysergic acid diethylamide) and "angel dust" or pcp (phencyclidine).

Cocaine: 'Disturbing Area'

Cocaine use among the young, which Ms. Heckler described as a "disturbing area," and Mr. Johnson said is "troublesomely high," has continued at about the same level since 1979.

Of the seniors surveyed, 16 percent said they had used cocaine at some time in their lives and 6 percent said they were current users, up from 5 percent last year.

Mr. Johnson said an increasing number of students think cocaine is dangerous and disapprove of its use, but he added that there are indications that its use is on the rise in the Northeast.

Daily Drinkers Down

The surveys have also shown a slow decline in the seniors' use of alcohol. "There was a concern in some circles that alcohol use would rise as illicit-drug use declines," Mr. Johnson said. "But in fact they have both been dropping."

The proportion of daily drinkers dropped to 5 percent of those polled in 1984, down from a peak of 7 percent in 1979. The proportion of current drinkers dropped from 72 percent in 1979 to 67 percent in 1984.

Two Local Surveys

Despite the findings that indicate that teen-age drug abuse is declining overall, surveys in two New England states showing higher than average usage rates are worrying officials.

In a survey of 5,000 Massachusetts public- and private-school students, 90 percent of those polled said they had used alcohol in their life-time and 59 percent said they were current users. Sixty percent of those polled had used an illicit drug of some sort, not including alcohol; 31 percent were current users of an illicit drug; and 28 percent had tried such a drug by the age of 12.

And in Rhode Island, a study by the State Department of Health, undertaken to determine health-risk factors among the state's teen-agers, found that a "startling" number of youths use alcohol and drugs, according to Louis Marciano, chief of health promotion for the department.

Of the 11,340 public-high school students surveyed, 51 percent said they had at least one drink a week, 11 percent said they had at least 7 drinks a week, 23 percent said they mixed alcohol and drugs, and 17 percent said they had driven or ridden in a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

New England Efforts

To combat the state's problem, the Massachusetts Board of Education has made $100,000 available for drug education, according to Barbara Kopans, communications director for the state executive office of public safety. Of that money, $45,820 will go to 20 public-school districts to plan drug-education programs for all grades. The balance of the money will be spent providing teachers with inservice training on drug and alcohol abuse.

Ms. Kopans also said that $1 million in state public-health funds will be awarded to drug-prevention centers around the state beginning this month. Most of that money, she said, will go to programs for adolescents.

And in Hamden, Conn., the Children's Center, a medical facility for emotionally disturbed children, has established what its officials say is the first residential treatment unit in the state for adolescent alcoholics.

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