After 5-Year Decline, Drug Use By Seniors Found Leveling Off

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After declining for five years, the rate of drug use among high-school seniors appears to have leveled off, according to a report by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Cocaine Use Rises

But while the researchers found little change from last year in most drug categories, they noted a disturbing increase in the use of several dangerous drugs, particularly cocaine.

The study, based on survey responses from 16,000 1985 seniors at public and private high schools across the country, is the 11th annual report on teen-age drug use by the university's Institute for Social Research. The research is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The data from the graduating4class of 1985 indicate that the declining use among high-school seniors of marijuana, tranquilizers, barbiturates, alcohol, and cigarettes--a phenomenon in evidence since 1979--has come, at least temporarily, to an end. And while no significant increases were recorded in the use of these drugs, experimentation with "hard" drugs--cocaine, pcp (phencyclidine), and opiates other than heroin--was up.

Thirty percent of the students surveyed last spring reported using an illicit drug in the previous month, according to the researchers, and 61 percent reported experimenting with an illicit drug at some time; 40 percent admitted using a drug other than marijuana.

"Beginning about 1980, there was an important turnaround in young people's attitudes about abusable substances, after nearly two decades of continuous increases in use," said Lloyd D. Johnston, one of three University of Michigan social psychologists who directed the study. "This year," he said, "only three drugs showed continuous decline--amphetamines, methalqualone, and to a lesser extent, lsd [lysergic acid diethylamide]."

Still Less Than Peak

But the researchers note that drug use is still less prevalent among seniors than it was in the peak years of the late 1970's, and that most of the 1985 figures vary only slightly from those of a year ago.

Said Mr. Johnson: "Daily marijuana use is less than half of what it was in 1978 [5 percent versus 11 percent] and the statistics for a number of other drugs are appreciably lower now than they were at peak levels--including barbiturates, lsd, pcp, and heroin."

But the increasing use of cocaine among teen-agers should cause "great concern," he said. The survey found that 17 percent of the 1985 seniors had tried cocaine. This is the highest rate observed so far in the continuing study.

"Cocaine use is up in 1985 among virtually all of the subgroups we examined," said Mr. Johnson, "among males and females, college-bound and non-college-bound, rural and urban areas, and all regions of the country except the South."--er

Vol. 05, Issue 11

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