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Drug Use Among High Schoolers Up After Decline, Study Finds

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Washington

Illegal drug use among junior high and high school students--and the use of marijuana in particular--increased last year after decreasing for several years, a study released last week concludes.

Findings from the study, commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, were released at a news conference here by Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, and Lee P. Brown, the director of the office of National Drug Control Policy.

The increase in drug use among 12th graders may mark a reversal of a downward trend that has been apparent since 1979, the apex of drug use among high school seniors, the study says. In 1979, 59 percent of 12th graders reported using illicit drugs.

Thirty-one percent of the high school seniors surveyed in 1993 said they had used drugs within the past 12 months, up from 27.1 percent in 1992.

The survey found that 26 percent of 12th graders said they had used marijuana in the past year, compared with 21.9 percent in 1992. Tenth graders reported a similar increase; use among 8th graders increased two percentage points.

Use of stimulants, LSD, inhalants, and tobacco cigarettes also increased, while cocaine use remained steady.

The study marks the 19th year that researchers from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research have conducted the survey of high school seniors. Students in grades 8 and 10 have been included in the study for the past two years. Approximately 50,000 students participated this year.

The Survey's Scope

Ms. Shalala said the survey showed that drug use "cuts across every socioeconomic group, every ethnic group ... all four regions of the country,'' across sex lines and among the college-bound and the non-college-bound.

Some observers said that the survey does not necessarily present a complete picture of teenage drug use, however, and that its statistics may be conservative.

"You have to understand who is being surveyed,'' said Michael Prendergast, a drug-abuse researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Mr. Prendergast pointed out that, because the survey includes only students who were at school on the day of the survey, it may miss dropouts and students who are frequently absent--those who very likely have a higher rate of drug use. In addition, some students might not report their behavior accurately because of the stigma attached to drug use.

"It might not give you exact percentages ... but as far as trends are concerned, it's a good measure,'' Mr. Prendergast said.

Ms. Shalala and others who spoke at the news conference attributed the apparent increase in drug use to what they called a "false sense of security'' that has taken over the nation.

"Young people need to hear a frequent and consistent message about drug abuse ... that drugs are illegal, and that they will stay illegal in the United States,'' Ms. Shalala said. Her statement appeared to back up the Administration's assertion that legalization is not likely, despite recent comments by Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders in support of the idea as a way to control crime.

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