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Teen drug use: ups and downs.

Despite encouraging drops in teenagers' reported use of illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes since 1980, the latest nationwide survey of U.S. high school seniors contains some disturbing signs. Most glaring is the record high number of students who say they have tried cocaine. When this trend is combined with rates of illicit drug use among American youth higher than in any other industrialized nation, "you have grounds for real concern," says Lloyd D. Johnston, co-director of the study with Jerald G. Bachman and Patrick O'Malley.

The survey of 16,000 high school seniors in 132 public and private schools, conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor psychologists, finds that 17 percent of the class of 1985 have tried cocaine at some point and 7 percent used it in the month prior to the survey. These are both 1 percent increases over last year. Cocaine use rose regardless of students' college plans and sex; all regions of the country except the South reported increases.

Marijuana use, on the decline among teenagers since 1979, remains at last year's level. Just over half of the seniors have tried the drug, and one in four used it in the previous month. About 5 percent use marijuana daily, compared with 11 percent in 1978. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the sample.

Amphetamines are the second most widely used illegal drug, followed by cocaine. The number of those who used amphetamines in the past month declined slightly in 1985, to just under 7 percent; 26 percent reported trying them at some time. The only other drugs showing continued declines this year are LSD and methequalone, also known as Quaalude. Both drugs are used by a small minority of students.

Rates of overall illicit drug use are almost identical to those reported last year. About 6 in 10 seniors admit to trying illegal drugs at least once, and 4 in 10 have used an illicit drug other than marijuana. Active use in the month prior to the survey was reported by 30 percent. Still, this is down from almost 40 percent reporting active use in the late 1970s.

Daily alcohol use among the seniors increased slightly in 1985 to 5 percent, while monthly and annual use dropped slightly. Yet nearly half of the boys and over one-quarter of the girls reported drinking heavily (five or more drinks in a row) in the previous two weeks. Daily cigarette smoking rose from 19 percent in 1984 to 20 percent this year.

The Michigan survey coincides with a just-released report on drug use by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Cocaine use in the United STates rose 11 percent in 1984, according to the study. Marijuana use was down, but the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen PCP showed increases.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 16, 1985
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