Seniors’ Drug-Use Survey Shows Downward Trend

By Ellen Flax — February 21, 1990 3 min read

Washington--Findings from a national survey released last week show a continuing downward trend in the proportion of high-school seniors who use illicit drugs, but little change in the percentage using the highly addictive cocaine derivative crack.

The study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research was based on a survey of 17,000 students in 135 public and private schools. It found that more than half of the seniors--50.9 percent--said they had used an illicit drug at least once. That figure was down from the 53.9 percent recorded in 1988.

The percentage who reported using any illegal drug during the previous 30 days was also on the downswing, falling from 21.3 percent in 1988 to 19.7 percent in 1989.

A declining percentage of students reported using marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol during the previous month. But use of crack remained stable, the survey found.

In both 1988 and 1989, 3.1 percent of the students said they had used crack during the previous year. And while the percentage who said they had used the substance during the past 30 days dropped from 1.6 percent to 1.4 percent, the percentage reporting daily use doubled, from 0.1 percent in 1988 to 0.2 percent in 1989.

The study, released at a press conference here by Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan and William J. Bennett, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was the first in the series4Michigan began in 1975 to estimate the prevalence of steroid use, which it placed at 4.7 percent of senior boys.

It was also the first to gauge the impact of “ice,” or crystal methamphetamine, a new stimulant drug that can be smoked and has many of the same effects as crack.

Use of ice was reported by 1.3 percent of the seniors during the past year. In the West, that figure jumped to 3 percent.

“These statistics suggest that for high-school students, drugs are still an all-too-available commodity,” Mr. Bennett said. “While we are making headway on the demand side, more work needs to be done on the supply side, too.”

Findings also included an increase in the percentage of students reporting daily use of cigarettes--up from 18.1 percent to 18.9 percent. Fewer students reported binge drinking, but one-third said they had drunk more than five drinks at one sitting during the past two weeks.

The annual survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has been criticized for not including information about the drug-use patterns of dropouts. The researchers estimated that approximately 15 to 20 percent of all students drop out. In many urban districts, however, that figure can approach 40 percent.

The revised national drug strategy released last month recommends that the survey include former students and also younger adolescents.

In the study, those at the greatest risk of dropping out--students with poor grades or excessive truancies--exhibited declines in drug use similar to the overall findings.

The researchers said they were disturbed that pcp, a hallucinogen, appears to be showing renewed popularity. In 1989, 1.4 percent of the students said they had used pcp during the past month, up from 0.3 percent in 1988. Reported usage over the past year also rose, from 1.2 percent in 1988 to 2.4 percent last year.

The survey showed 3 percent of the seniors having tried steroids at least once, 4.7 percent of boys and 1.3 percent of girls. These figures are lower than those of previous studies, which have estimated that close to 7 percent of high-school males use steroids.

Lloyd Johnston, a social pyschologist at Michigan and the study’s principal investigator, said he was particularly concerned about the steroid findings because about one-third of the users reported injecting the growth-enhancing hormone. The danger of unsterile needles, he said, may put these steroid users at higher risk of being exposed to the aids virus.

Although overall drug use continued a decline that was first marked in 1979, students reported that drugs were more available than ever. But, in an indication perhaps of the effectiveness of public-awareness efforts, they were also increasingly likely to believe that drugs are harmful.

A version of this article appeared in the February 21, 1990 edition of Education Week as Seniors’ Drug-Use Survey Shows Downward Trend