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Teenagers' drug use drops.

Teenagers' drug use drops

Self-reported use of illicit drugs by high-school seniors continued a decade-long decline in 1989, while alcohol and cigarettes remained the most widely used drugs among the students, according to a national survey released last week.

The annual survey of 17,000 seniors is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Overall, 19.7 percent said they had used an illicit drug in the previous month, compared with 21.3 percent in 1988 and nearly 40 percent in 1979. Seventeen percent of the seniors reported using marijuana in the prior month -- down from a peak of 37 percent in 1979. Cocaine consumption was reported by 2.8 percent of the students, sustaining a steady slide from 6.7 percent in 1985. Amphetamine use in the previous month was about 4 percent last year, having dropped from 12 percent in 1980. The reported use of tranquilizers, barbiturates and methaqualone remained at extremely low levels.

However, disturbing signs also appeared. Reported use of PCP, a hallucinogen with dangerous effects, rose in the month before the survey from 0.3 percent in 1988 to 1.4 percent in 1989. Heroin use was infrequent, but rose from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent over the same time period. Crack cocaine use in the prior month fell from 1.6 percent in 1988 to 1.4 percent in 1989, but the percentage of seniors reporting crack use in the past year was 3.1 percent in 1989, the same as in 1988.

Overall, the survey probably underestimates illicit drug use, acknowledges study director Lloyd D. Johnston, because it does not account for high school dropouts. Federal data indicate about 27 percent of U.S. teenagers are dropouts.

Alcohol has long been reported as the most commonly consumed drug in the senior survey, and 1989 was no different in that respect. Sixty percent of the seniors said they had used alcohol in the past month, down from a peak of 72 percent in 1980. One-third of the students reported consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a row sometime during the previous two weeks.

Rates of cigarette smoking have not changed substantially over the past decade, with 29 percent of the seniors in 1989 reporting cigarette use in the past month and 19 percent reporting daily cigarette use. This finding is "by far the most disappointing part of the story," Johnston says.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 24, 1990
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