- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Teen use of illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco all fell this year, and federal officials said yesterday that they hope it signals the beginning of a trend away from substance abuse.

"Teen drug use is once again headed in the right direction: down," said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, at a news conference on the 2002 findings of the annual Monitoring the Future survey.

The survey, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, asks 44,000 students in middle school and high school about their views on and use of more than a dozen illegal drugs, plus alcoholic, tobacco and steroid products.

The 2002 data "confirms that our drug-prevention efforts are working and that when we work together and push back, the drug problem gets smaller," Mr. Walters said. "The trends are moving with us, not against us," he added.

Both the September 11 terror attacks and a "cohort effect" may be contributing to the declines in teen substance abuse, said Lloyd Johnson, principal investigator of the survey at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

The "cohort effect" refers to the spread of certain attitudes and behaviors through a generation of people, he said.

In the early 1990s, for instance, eighth-graders began using illegal substances at higher rates, and this "spread up the age spectrum," causing teen drug use to increase for several years, Mr. Johnson said. Illegal drug use peaked from 1996 to 1997.

Now "we seem to be seeing another cohort effect, a reversal of the first one, with eighth-graders being the first to show declines in drug use, albeit very gradual ones," Mr. Johnson said. If the effect is real, drug use should continue to decrease.

In addition, September 11 "may have had a sobering impact" on young people, Mr. Johnson said. "Maybe it helped some, at least, to clarify what is and is not important to them."

The 2002 survey found that:

•Lifetime use of any illegal drug fell in all three grades surveyed, with a significant, 2.3 percent, decline among eighth graders. By grade, 24.5 percent of eighth-graders, 44.6 percent of 10th-graders and 53 percent of 12th-graders said they had used an illicit drug at least once.

•Marijuana use fell in all age groups, although this remained the most commonly used illegal drug.

•When marijuana use was not counted, even fewer teens said they had ever used an illegal drug: 13.7 percent of eighth-graders, 22.1 percent of 10th-graders and 29.5 percent of 12th-graders. The 3.3 percent decline among eighth-graders using any drug other than marijuana was significant.

•Use of Ecstasy, a stimulant often used at all-night dance parties, fell for the first time since 1998 in all three grades. This followed an "unusually rapid" increase in the percent of teens who think Ecstasy (also known as MDMA for methylenedioxymethamphetamine) has a "great risk of harm," Mr. Johnson said. In 2000, for instance, 38 percent of 12th-graders thought Ecstasy use was risky. That number rose to 46 percent in 2001, and has now reached 52 percent.

•Alcohol use in all grades fell to its lowest levels in the 1990s, with 47 percent of eighth-graders, 66.9 percent of 10th-graders and 78.4 percent of 12th-graders saying they had had at least one alcoholic beverage.

•Smoking in all grades also fell to its lowest levels since the 1990s, with 31.4 percent of eighth-graders, 47.4 percent of 10th-graders, and 57.2 percent of 12th-graders saying they had ever smoked cigarettes.

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