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Seniors' Reported Drug Use Lowest in Years, Poll Finds

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Washington--Drug use among high-school seniors last year was at its lowest level in 13 years, a new national study has found.

According to a survey of 16,000 seniors at 135 public and private schools, 39 percent reported using an illicit drug last year, down from 42 percent the previous year.

In 1979, the peak year for teenage drug use, 54 percent of the seniors polled said they had used an illicit drug during the preceding 12 months.

The survey also found that 54 percent of the class of 1988 had tried an illicit drug by the time of their graduation, a figure that was 3 percentage points lower than that registered by the previous graduating class.

"More and more young people are heeding the messages; they're making good decisions about their lives; and they're staying away from drugs," said Charles R. Schuster, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the federal agency that funded the study.

Researchers from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, which has conducted the annual survey for 14 years, said the declines in the use of marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, and 15 other drugs could be attributed to adolescents' growing concerns about the risks associated with even the occasional use of many drugs.

But despite the lower usage levels among high-school seniors, the researchers were quick to point out that their survey sample did not include dropouts and other subgroups in the teenage population that are more likely to use drugs.

"This is great news--that our high-school seniors are listening," Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos said in a statement. "However, too many of our youth, especially those that never become seniors--the dropouts--still risk their health and future by using drugs."

According to the survey, a declining percentage of high-school seniors reported using the following illicit substances:

Cocaine: The percentage reporting they had used cocaine during the past year dropped from 10.3 percent in 1987 to 7.9 percent last year. Those who said they had used it during the previous month fell from 4.3 percent to 3.4 percent.

Crack: Use of this drug dropped by nearly one-quarter in one year; 3.1 percent of the class of 1988 said they had used crack during the past year, down from 4 percent in 1987. Researchers said they could not estimate whether a similar decline had occured among high-school dropouts, especially those in inner-city areas.

The percentage of seniors who said they had used the drug during the past 30 days, however, increased slightly in the study, from 1.5 percent in 1987 to 1.6 percent in 1988.

Marijuana: One-third of the seniors reported using marijuana or hashish during 1988, down from 36.3 percent in 1987. The number reporting daily use also fell, from 3.3 percent to 2.7 percent.

Alcohol: For the first time in several years, the survey found a decrease in consumption of alcoholic beverages. The proportion of students who had had a drink during the past month declined from 66 percent in 1987 to 64 percent in 1988, and the percentage of those who reported having five or more drinks in a row during the prior two weeks fell from 38 percent to 35 percent.

Tobacco: 18.1 percent of the high-school seniors responding to the survey were daily smokers, down from 18.7 percent in 1987. Most of these smokers said they smoked at least half a pack of cigarettes a day.--ef

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