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Teenage Drug Use Continues To Slide

While illicit drug use remains steady overall, drug use by youths continues to decline, a recent survey concludes. The youth-drug-use rate, which has fluctuated over the past decade, is again on the decline, according to the National Household Study on Drug Abuse conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The survey, which was released last month, is based on a sample of 25,500 people ages 12 and older.

"The fact that the numbers are best for the youngest group is a harbinger that use will continue to fall as this group grows older," Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug-policy-control director, said.

In 1998, 9.9 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds surveyed reported current drug use--meaning they had used drugs at least once in the past 30 days. The number represents a significant decrease from the 11.4 percent who reported such behavior in 1997, the report says. But there was virtually no change in drug use overall from 1997 to 1998. According to the survey, an estimated 13.6 million Americans reported current drug use last year; the estimate was 13.9 million in 1997.

Marijuana was the illicit drug of choice for those surveyed. More than 8 percent of youths reported current use of marijuana, slipping from 9.4 percent in 1997. Less than one percent of the teenagers reported cocaine use in 1998-- the same as in 1997--and 1.1 percent reported using inhalants in 1998, down from 2 percent the previous year.

In contrast, the estimated rates of youths who used marijuana and heroin for the first time ever remained at historically high levels from 1995 to 1997. Should the crop of first-time users continue using drugs, the report warns, the size of the population needing treatment for a drug-abuse problem will grow by an estimated 57 percent by 2020.

"While it looks like we have turned the corner ... we must not rest," Donna E. Shalala, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

The survey also looked at reported alcohol and tobacco use. Based on the results, the report concludes that 10.5 million Americans ages 12 to 20 use alcohol, and that 4.1 million 12- to and 17-year-olds smoke.

A summary of the study is available on the World Wide Web at

Fathers Count

Teenagers' relationships with their fathers play a significant role in whether they will smoke, drink, or abuse drugs, a survey released last week suggests.

The survey of 2,000 young people, ages 12 to 17, and 1,000 parents found that adolescents living in two-parent families who have a fair or poor relationship with their fathers are at a 68 percent higher risk of using tobacco, alcohol, or drugs compared with all teenagers living in a two-parent household. The survey also found young people living in a home headed by a single mother at a 30 percent higher risk.

"This is a wake-up call for every dad in America," Joseph A. Califano Jr., the president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said in a statement. The center conducted the survey, the fifth in an annual series.

The survey also found that teenagers feel closer to their mothers. Seventy-one percent reported having an excellent relationship with their mothers; only 58 percent said the same about their fathers.

The safest teenagers are those who live in two- parent families and have a positive relationship with both parents, the report on the findings says.

"Parents have enormous power over a child's well-being, but too many fail to appreciate and use this power," Mr. Califano said.

The "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse V: Teens and Their Parents" has a margin of error of 2 percentage points. It is available on the Web at


The drug-abuse-prevention program DARE is popular but ineffective, according to a study by researchers at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

The study, published in the August issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, is a follow-up to an earlier study of the program that also found no long-term effect on illegal drug use among children and adolescents.

As 6th graders, the DARE participants attended weekly, one- hour sessions over 17 weeks, during which uniformed police officers taught them about the dangers of drinking, smoking, and drug use.

Data were collected before and after the administration of the program, and follow-up questions were asked five years later. Similar to earlier research, participants in the new study were asked questions about their use of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

Researchers looked at more than 1,000 participants who had reached the ages of 19 to 21 and had taken part in DARE or standard drug education in the 6th grade. They found that over a decade, the DARE program had no effect. Few differences were found between the two groups in terms of actual drug use or drug attitude, and in no case did the DARE group have a more successful outcome than the comparison group.

The results, the researchers say, are consistent in documenting the absence of benefits associated with the DARE program.

The researchers acknowledge that the study was based on an out-of-date version of the program and that a newer version may have fared better. But they also point out that even though the curriculum may have changed over time, the goals and the focus of DARE have remained the same, as has the method of instruction.

"DARE is learning from its critics," responded Ralph Lochridge, a spokesman for DARE, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. "Our contention is that they are right, but lessons will erode over time. With that in mind, the program has created a curriculum with an emphasis on reinforcement."

Hyperactive Boys

Boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol when they get older if they are treated with stimulants such as Ritalin, says a study.

The study, underwritten by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institute of Mental Health, appears in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston conducted the study of boys with ADHD. A condition characterized by impulsivity and a lack of concentration, it affects an estimated 2 million U.S. school-age youngsters, most of them boys.

The study compared the incidence of drug or alcohol abuse among three groups: adolescent boys with the disorder who were treated with stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall, or Dexedrine, which are commonly prescribed for ADHD; boys with the disorder who had not been treated with medication; and boys without the disorder.

According to the authors, the nonmedicated ADHD participants were at significant risk for substance abuse or dependence compared with the boys who did not have ADHD. Medicated ADHD participants were at a significantly reduced risk for such problems compared with their untreated peers.

Those who weren't medicated were three times more likely to have a drug or alcohol dependency four years later, said Dr. Joseph Biederman, one of the authors.

The results show that adequate treatment of the disorder with medication can reduce the risk of subsequent drug and alcohol abuse, Dr. Biederman said.

Weapons Expulsions

The second annual report on the implementation of the Gun- Free Schools Act has found a drop of nearly one-third in the number of students expelled for bringing guns to school.

The federal law, which was passed in 1994, requires a public school district to expel any student who brings such a weapon to school. Noncompliance can mean the loss of federal aid.

In the 1997-98 school year, the latest report shows, the number of expulsions nationwide for carrying a firearm to school dropped to 3,930, down 31 percent from the 1996-97 total of 5,724.

The survey results, which were released last month by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, found that most of the expulsions, 57 percent, occurred in high schools; 33 percent in middle schools; and 10 percent in elementary schools.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 19, Issue 1, Page 10

Published in Print: September 8, 1999, as Health Update
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