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A Disturbing Trend: Drug Use Among Teenagers Rises for 3rd Straight Year

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Teenagers in the United States used illegal drugs--especially marijuana--in greater numbers last year than in 1993, continuing a troubling trend that began in 1992, a national survey has found.

Illicit drugs other than marijuana have also gained in popularity among teenagers in recent years, including LSD, inhalants, stimulants, barbiturates, and--this past year--cocaine and crack.

The annual Monitoring the Future study, conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and released last month, surveyed about 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in 420 public and private schools about their use of illegal drugs.

After the heavy drug use of the middle to late 1970's, the 20-year-old study tracked a decline that lasted until 1991, when the recent upturn began.

Since then, the number of students reporting any use of marijuana during the previous 12 months doubled among 8th graders, to 13 percent, and grew among 10th and 12th graders to 25 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Over all, more than one-third of all 8th graders have used some illicit drug, including inhalants, and more than 40 percent of 10th graders and nearly half of all seniors have done so, the study found.

The survey revealed that teenagers are also less likely since 1991 to associate risks with regular use of drugs. Only 65 percent reported a great risk associated with using marijuana.

Peer disapproval of marijuana use has also declined recently--from a high of 70 percent of high school seniors in 1992 to 58 percent in 1994, the study says.

Stature Studied: Very short children fare no worse than their peers either psychologically or socially, a team of researchers in Buffalo, N.Y., has found.

In neither sex does short stature appear associated with clinically significant psychosocial problems, the researchers from the Children's Hospital of Buffalo and the State University of New York at Buffalo concluded. Their findings challenge the reasoning behind providing growth- hormone treatments for all short children, says the report, published in last month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The children in the study--180 boys and 78 girls, ages 4 to 18--were referred to a pediatric endocrine clinic in Buffalo for evaluation. The children all fell into the lowest 5 percent or lower for height for their ages.

While their parents described short boys as being significantly less capable socially and having more behavioral and emotional problems than those of normal height, short boys perceived themselves in ways comparable to how their normal-sized peers view themselves.

And very short girls were virtually indistinguishable from their normal-sized peers in reports both by themselves and their parents on social ability and behavior.

Risks From Childhood Sex: Children who have sex voluntarily at or before age 10 are far more likely than those who wait until they are 16 or older to perform poorly in school, join gangs, and to have frequent and unprotected sex, a Minnesota study has found.

Such children are also more likely to become pregnant or cause pregnancy, have a desire to leave home, and have a history of mental-health treatment, emotional distress, and suicidal involvement than those who wait to have sex.

University of Minnesota researchers studied anonymous questionnaires from the Minnesota Adolescent Health Survey, given to 36,284 public school students in grades 7 through 12 during the 1986-87 school year. The study was published last month in Pediatrics.

Statewide, 3.4 percent of children reported first having sex at or before age 10. Such early sex, which did not include sexual abuse, was much more likely to occur among males, African-Americans, and students from families with lower socioeconomic status or a broken marriage, compared with the control group, the researchers found.

Gun Violence: Black male adolescents were the most likely of all children from birth to age 16 to be killed or wounded by guns in Kansas City, Mo., in 1992, researchers have found.

The study, published in last month's Pediatrics, found that most victims also lived in poverty-stricken areas. Indeed, most were clustered in a fairly small region of the central city.

Although blacks make up just 39 percent of the population age 16 or younger in Kansas City, they represented 82 percent of the victims in the study.

Seventy-nine percent of the victims in the study were male, and 94 percent were ages 12 through 16.

In total, researchers turned up 72 cases of firearm injury involving 71 children. One child was shot on two different occasions.

Most of the injuries in the study, 71 percent, came as the result of an assault, and most of those were a direct attack on the victim.

Drive-by shootings accounted for 41 percent of those injuries, while 21 percent of all cases studied were unintentional shootings.

While most of the incidents occurred on the street or in a private home, three nonfatal shootings--just 4 percent of the total--took place on school grounds.

Twelve children died from shootings. Ten of those were homicides, nine of which were the result of a drive-by shooting.

--Millicent Lawton

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