- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Illicit drug use among teenagers dropped nearly 7 percent this year, although there was a significant increase in the number of eighth-graders abusing inhalants, according to a national survey.

The study, conducted by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, also found that teen drug abuse has fallen 17 percent since 2001.

The findings were disclosed to President Bush shortly before the study was released yesterday.

“There are now 600,000 fewer teens using drugs than there were in 2001,” said John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who briefed Mr. Bush in the Oval Office.

“This is real progress,” Mr. Walters added. “We know that if we can prevent kids from trying drugs in their teenage years, we dramatically reduce the likelihood that they will go on to have problems later in life.”

But the annual survey of 49,474 students from 406 public and private schools also showed a jump in the number of eighth-graders sniffing glue, gasoline and shoe polish. The number rose from 7.7 percent in 2002 to 8.7 percent in 2003 to nearly 10 percent this year.

“We are concerned about the increasing number of eighth-graders using inhalants,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Research has found that even a single session of repeated inhalant abuse can disrupt heart rhythms and cause death from cardiac arrest or lower oxygen levels enough to cause suffocation.”

She added: “Regular abuse of these substances can result in serious harm to vital organs, including the brain, heart, kidneys and liver.”

Among 12th-graders, researchers were perplexed by a rise in the use of OxyContin, a powerful synthetic narcotic.

“The continued rise in OxyContin use among high school seniors — even though it is not a statistically significant one — continues to concern us, particularly given the relatively high prevalence rate already attained by this highly addictive narcotic drug,” said University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnston.

The study, which has been conducted since 1975, asks eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders whether they have used drugs during the previous month, the previous year, and in their lifetime. It also measures smoking, which has been on the decline since the mid-1990s.

“That’s the good news,” Mr. Johnston said. “The bad news is that the decline has decelerated sharply in the past two years, though it still continues for the most part.”

Researchers said there still are a “substantial” number of teens who said they had smoked within 30 days of being surveyed — 25 percent of 12th-graders, 16 percent of 10th-graders and 9 percent of eighth-graders.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson hailed the results of the survey, although he cautioned that more work needs to be done.

“We need to continue our efforts to educate parents and teens about the consequences of drug abuse,” he said.

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