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Revised Strategy Seeks Steer Minors From Drinking

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WASHINGTON -- Marking a significant shift in the federal government's fight against drug abuse, a revised national anti-drug strategy calls for increased efforts to prevent minors from using alcohol.

The third annual drug policy, released last week by Bob Martinez, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, calls on schools and parents to promote abstinence from alcohol among minors.

"Although the data show a continuing decline in the alcohol consumption among oar youth, the number of underage alcohol consumers is still much too high," the policy report says. "Therefore, while illegal drugs remain the primary focus, starting this year the National Drug Control Strategy will devote additional attention to the nexus between alcohol abuse, especially by underage individuals, and drug use."

The report argues that the shift is necessary because teenagers, like adults, rarely become addicted to only one substance. To treat drug abuse, one must often treat alcoholism, it says.

Until this latest strategy, illegal drug use by both minors and adults was the major thrust of the Administration's anti-drug fight. Mr. Martinez's predecessor, William J. Bennett, felt that because alcohol was legal, it was not supposed to be a major focus of his office.

In particular, Mr. Bennett and other federal officials disagreed with the Commission on Drug-Free Schools about the role that alcohol should play in its final report. The commission eventually concluded that "the nation's illegal-drug problems will not be eliminated until the gateway drugs--alcohol and tobacco--are dealt with more effectively." (See Education Week, Nov. 21, 1990.)

Closing Loopholes

The strategy unveiled last week calls for $12.6 billion in federal antidrug spending in fiscal year 1993, including an increase of $30 million for drug-education programs, to a total of $657 million.

The Administration calls on states to do the following to reduce alcohol and tobacco use by teenagers:

  • Expand laws that set stiff penalties for anyone convicted of a drug crime within 1,000 feet a school to include other areas where young people tend to congregate, including playgrounds and video arcades.
  • Create more effective penalties to deter teenage alcohol use. Punishments would include revoking the driver's license of any teenager who commits an alcohol-related offense or uses a false identification card to purchase alcohol, requiring community service in lieu of fines, and providing school officials with civil immunity if they report incidents or conduct searches. . Create a single agency to regulate both tobacco and alcohol.
  • Make it a felony to produce or sell false identification cards.
  • Ban most cigarette vending machines.
  • Close loopholes in underage drinking laws.

Declines in Use

The announcement of the new strategy coincided with the release of results from the 17th annual national survey of drug use among high-school seniors, which show that drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among that population has continued to decline. The survey of nearly 15,500 members of the class of 1991, conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that 13.8 percent of the students reported having used marijuana during the preceding month, down by 0.2 percent from the previous year. Cocaine use during the preceding month also declined, with 1.4 percent of respondents reporting such use, compared with 1.9 percent in 1990.

Sedatives, tranquilizers, and PCP were the only drugs that the seniors surveyed in 1991 were more likely to use than were their counterparts in 1990. Despite the increases, fewer than 2 percent of students said they had used these drugs during the past month.

The seniors use of alcohol and tobacco, while decreasing, remained high. About 30 percent of the seniors reported consuming five or more drinks at one sitting during the preceding two weeks, down from 32 percent the previous year. And 18.5 percent said they smoked daily, down from 19.1 percent in 1990.

For the first time, the survey included data on drug and alcohol use by 8th and lOth graders. During the preceding 30 days, 25 percent of the 8th-grade students and 43 percent of the 1Oth-grade students had used alcohol, compared with 54 percent of the seniors. So-called "binge" drinking was reported by 13 percent of the youngest students and 23 percent of the sophomores.

Although the younger students were consistently less likely than the seniors to use drugs and alcohol, there was one exception: 9 percent of the 8th-grade students said they had used inhalants during the past year, compared with 7.1 percent of the 1Oth-grade students and 6.6 percent of the oldest students.

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