- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 1999

To hear the Clinton administration tell the story, the United States has made dramatic progress among teen-agers in recent years in the nation's war against drugs. Reality, however, is an altogether different matter.

Responding to the 1999 Monitoring the Future survey of illegal drug use by eighth, 10th and 12th graders, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House Drug Policy Director, was very upbeat, though undeservedly so. "The findings are extremely encouraging and serve as an indicator that the country's team effort and National Drug Strategy are working," the nation's drug czar exclaimed. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala added, "Today's report confirms that we have halted the dangerous trend of increased drug use among our young people."

While what Miss Shalala said was true, what she did not say is that the level of drug use among the nation's youth has stabilized at very high levels utterly unacceptable levels that were universally considered catastrophic when they were reached in recent years. While the significant annual increases in illicit drug use that characterized the first five years of the Clinton administration may no longer be occurring, teen drug use remains far above the levels Mr. Clinton inherited. At best, a terrible problem is no longer getting worse. It simply remains terrible. The administration is better at public relations than reducing drug abuse.

Consider the percentage of teen-agers who have anonymously acknowledged using illicit drugs during their lifetime. Among high school seniors, who have been annually surveyed since 1975, the acknowledgment of illicit drug use within one's lifetime peaked at 65.6 percent in 1981. That rate declined during each of the next 11 years, reaching 40.7 percent in 1992. It has increased in six of the past seven years, including 1999, and now stands at 54.7 percent, its highest level since 1987.

Use of marijuana within one's lifetime among 12th graders plunged from a record-level 60.4 percent in 1979 to 32.6 percent in 1992, having fallen 13 years in a row. It, too, has increased during six of the past seven years, reaching 49.7 percent in 1999, its highest level since 1987. Use of marijuana by high school seniors within the previous 30 days has increased by 94 percent during the Clinton-Gore administration.

The percentage of high school seniors who smoked marijuana daily during the previous 30 days has increased by more than 200 percent since 1992, reaching 6 percent in 1999, the highest level in nearly 20 years. Use of cocaine within the previous 30 days by high school seniors has doubled during the Clinton administration, reaching 2.6 percent in 1999, the highest level in a decade.

Eighth and 10th graders have been anonymously surveyed since 1991. The percentages of eighth and 10th graders who acknowledged in 1999 that they have used marijuana within their lifetime were virtually twice as high 22 percent and 40.9 percent, respectively as their corresponding percentages in 1992. For 10th graders, lifetime cocaine use has more than doubled since 1992, reaching 7.7 percent in 1999, the highest level in a decade. Nearly three times as many 10th graders reported using cocaine within the past year than in 1992.

In 1999, marijuana use by eighth graders within the previous 30 days was three times the rate in 1991. Compared to 1992, daily use of marijuana within the previous 30 days by eighth and 10th graders in 1999 increased by 600 percent and 300 percent, respectively.

On balance, the performance of the Clinton-Gore administration on the teen drug war front has been abysmal. No amount of cheerleading or public relations can detract from that fact.

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