- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

American teens are less likely to use alcohol and tobacco today than in 1991, but their use of illegal drugs expanded significantly over the decade, according to an annual national survey.

Teen tobacco use has been dropping for the past several years, and last year fell significantly for both 8th- and 10th-graders, said the 2001 Monitoring the Future survey, which was released yesterday.

This "is very encouraging" because it shows "more teens are making smart choices," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said yesterday.

But, he added, "we must remain vigilant to the threats that heroin, Ecstasy, marijuana, alcohol and other dangerous drugs pose to our youth."

This year's survey of 44,300 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders showed that lifetime use of any illicit drug increased a great deal during the 1990s, although it has leveled off in recent years.

In 1991, among 8th-graders, for instance, fewer than 20 percent had used an illegal drug. By 2001, nearly 27 percent had experimented with drugs.

A similar trend was seen in the upper grades: The portion of 10th-graders who had used a drug rose from 30.6 percent in 1991 to 45.6 percent in 2001, while the portion of drug-using seniors rose from 44.1 percent in 1991 to 53.9 percent.

The 2001 data showed some important declines in drug use from last year fewer 10th-graders reported ever using cocaine and fewer 10th- and 12th-graders reported ever using heroin.

However, a troubling sign was seen in the sustained interest by students in all three grades in the "club drug" Ecstasy.

In 2001, about 62 percent of seniors said they could easily get Ecstasy, compared with 40 percent in 1999, said Lloyd D. Johnston, who directs the 27-year-old survey at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor.

This indicates that Ecstasy is rapidly "reaching new communities," he said.

Ecstasy, formally known as methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA, is a stimulant that causes feelings of well-being.

Some Ecstasy users have experienced heart attacks, strokes, hyperthermia, memory loss and panic attacks.

Monitoring the Future has been tracking MDMA since 1996, when it found that 3.4 percent of 8th-graders, 5.6 percent of 10th-graders and 6.1 percent of seniors had tried the drug. In 2001, these numbers rose to 5.2 percent, 8 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively.

The survey also found that:

•In 2001, 50.5 percent of 8th-graders, 70.1 percent of 10th-graders and 79.7 percent of seniors had tried alcoholic beverages. All these numbers are lower than those reported last year and in 1993, when the survey was changed to clarify that having a drink meant "more than a few sips."

•Between 2000 and 2001, the number of 8th-graders who smoked cigarettes fell from 40.5 percent to 36.6 percent, while 10th-grade use fell from 55.1 percent to 52.8 percent. Both of these declines were statistically significant. Smoking by seniors also fell, from 62.5 percent to 61 percent.

•Use of small, flavored cigarettes known as "bidis" fell in all three grades between 2000 and 2001, the only years it has been tracked.

•Marijuana and hashish remain the most popular illicit drugs among teens.

During the 1990s, usage peaked in mid-decade and then declined only slightly. In 2001, 20.4 percent of 8th-graders, 40.1 percent of 10th-graders and 49 percent of seniors said they had used these drugs.

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