Use of Pot, Other Drugs Declines for 4th Consecutive Year

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High-school seniors have substantially reduced their use of marijuana and most other illicit drugs, but they still use these substances at "alarming" rates, according to the latest results of a federally sponsored survey of drug use.

The survey, which has been made annually since 1975, is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Conducted by University of Michigan psychologists, Lloyd D. Johnston, Jerald G. Bachman, and Patrick M. O'Malley, it involves a nationally representative sample of 17,700 high-school seniors who attend public and private schools.

In 1982, for the fourth year in a row, the survey disclosed a decline in the number of students who reported using marijuana daily or almost daily. The figure now stands at one in 16 students--the same number that reported daily use in 1975, the first year of the survey. Marijuana use peaked in 1978, when one in nine students reported using the drug daily.

"The high-school seniors we survey tell us that this decline is due to their growing concern about the health consequences of regular marijuana use and less peer acceptance," said Edward D. Brandt Jr., assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, in a statement.

According to the survey, 60 percent of those questioned attribute great risk to regular marijuana use, up from 35 percent in 1978. About 75 percent of the students said they thought their friends would disapprove of frequent marijuana use.

Although Mr. Brandt and others said they were encouraged by the declines, they noted also that the levels of drug use remain extremely high.

"These are truly staggering levels of substance use and abuse, whether by historical standards in our own country, or by comparison to nearly all other countries in the world," Mr. Johnson said.

Students' use of several other classes of drugs also showed further decline this year, according to the survey. The hallucinogen PCP, known as "angel dust," was used by fewer students--2.2 percent in 1982 compared to 7 percent in 1979. Steady declines were also reported in the use of tranquilizers and barbiturates.

And for the first time, according to the latest survey, students also decreased their illicit use of amphetamines, cocaine, and methaqualone. Reported use of amphetamines had risen sharply betwen 1979 and 1981, although the investigators attributed this increase in part to the growing use of the amphetamine "look-alike" drugs that do not require a prescription.

Part of the reported decline in amphetamine use can be attributed to states' banning of the look-alike diet drugs, according to Mr. Johnston.

A separate question on students' use of over-the-counter diet pills--included for the first time in the 1982 survey--showed that use of these drugs is high. Mr. Johnston said the researchers were "a little shocked" to discover that over 40 percent of the senior girls surveyed had tried the drugs, and 14 percent (one out of seven students) had used the diet pills during the month preceding the survey.

The levels of alcohol and tobacco use changed only slightly in 1982, the survey found.

Drinking patterns have stayed about the same since 1975, with most students--70 percent--reporting that they had used alcohol during the month preceding the survey.

However, the researchers found, 1982 showed the first evidence of a decline in the frequency of "binge" drinking--down 1.1 percent from the 1981 level.

The decline in smoking shown in previous years halted in 1982, and may have started to reverse slightly, according to the University of Michigan researchers.

Use of several other classes of drugs, heroin and amyl and butyl nitrites, showed no sign of dropping this year, although a downward shift in use occurred for both in the late 1970's.

The researchers cited the increasing activity of schools and parents in educating young people about drug abuse, as well as the "sobering'' effect of the economic recession, as factors in the decline.

Vol. 02, Issue 21

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