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Study Showing Rise in Drug Use Called Into Question

By Jessica Portner — October 28, 1992 3 min read

Several drug-abuse researchers have questioned the validity of a study released last week that reports a sharp rise in student drug use during the past year.

The survey found a “dramatic reversal of a three-year downward trend [in drug use],’' according to its sponsor, the Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education.

But some federal and university experts said they were wary of the survey, which they suggested was faulty and inconclusive.

The institute distributed a questionnaire last spring asking more than 212,000 students in 34 states about their use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Drug use rose in all 10 categories except wine coolers, marijuana, and cocaine, according to the study.

In particular, the survey found that 5.3 percent of the high school students responding said they had used L.S.D. at least once in the past 12 months, compared with the 4.9 percent who reported such use in last year’s survey.

Nearly 5 percent of the high school students reported using depressants, up from 4.6 percent the previous year. Use of stimulants increased from 7.6 percent to 8.3 percent, and use of inhalants jumped from 5 percent to 5.5 percent.

Junior high students also reported marginal increases in all categories, including use of marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, and hallucinogens, according to report.

Validity of Statistics

“The data indicate a failure to adequately address the issue of drug use in America,’' said Dr. Thomas J. Gleaton, the president of the Atlanta-based drug-education group.

Some observers disagreed.

“They shouldn’t be making a big deal out of this,’' said Lana Harrison, a statistician with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The institute’s own data for this year show drug use among 9th through 12th graders as stable to decreasing, she said.

The PRIDE findings are not significant, Ms. Harrison contended, because the group surveyed only schools that had agreed to purchase the results of the survey.

“There’s always a margin of error,’' Ms. Harrison said. “But with [PRIDE] it’s a tremendous margin of error because it’s not a random sample.’'

Douglas Hall, a spokesman for PRIDE, countered that the survey had no margin of error.

Douglas Anglin, the director of the Drug Abuse Research Group at the University of California at Los Angeles, agreed with Ms. Harrison. Because PRIDE does not have a centralized system for collecting data, “you would have to be suspicious,’' he said.

“This study may be useful as a one-time sample,’' Mr. Anglin said. “But it does not mean that drug use is increasing over all.’'

Mr. Hall defended the group’s findings, saying that its collection methods are sound.

“We are talking about a large universe of students who are surveyed by trained personnel,’' Mr. Hall said.

Students have responded consistently and have been tested and retested to insure the greatest possible accuracy, he said.

Criticism of the PRIDE study does not mean that other drug-use surveys offer a complete picture, experts pointed out.

“All of these studies are pieces of a puzzle’’ that must be evaluated together, Mr. Anglin said.

Political Pressure?

The release of the report just two weeks before the Presidential election may have been designed to discredit President Bush’s drug policy, some observers suggested.

PRIDE denied the charge.

The data were released amid claims by Dr. Gleaton that he had been pressured by the White House to stall the release of the findings because they might damage the President’s standing on the drug issue.

Mr. Bush has often cited decreased drug use among teenagers as a sign of the success of his drug policies.

The White House denied that it suggested delaying release of the data, and dismissed the findings as inconclusive, according to a statement released last week by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"[This office] does not regard the ðòéäå survey as one of the more important or useful indicators of adolescent drug use,’' the statement reads.

A version of this article appeared in the October 28, 1992 edition of Education Week as Study Showing Rise in Drug Use Called Into Question