Friday, September 8, 2006

Baby boomers who learned to “turn on, tune in, drop out” as teenagers are fueling a rise in illicit drug use among 50- to 59-year-olds even as a growing number of their children and grandchildren “just say no,” a government report says.

“They smoked weed at Woodstock, and they are still smoking weed,” said David Murray, special assistant to the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, pointing out that marijuana accounts for 70 percent of the boomers’ illegal drug use.

Other evidence of drug abuse among boomers includes a growing number showing up for treatment, and “and the median age of overdose deaths is also moving up,” Mr. Murray said.

“They brought it with them like baggage when they hit 50 and 60. So they have rates of use that are starting to stand out as persistent,” he said.

The proportion of boomers who reported using an illegal drug in the past month rose from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 4.4 percent last year, a 63 percent leap, the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health says.

In contrast, past-month use by those ages 12 to 17 fell from 11.6 percent to 9.9 percent during the same three-year period, a drop of 15 percent.

The good news, Mr. Murray said, is that young people today seem to have learned from the mistakes their parents made. More and more teens are turning away from illegal drugs, as well as other potentially harmful substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

“The patterns of self-destruction are so much lower in this generation coming in, and these patterns are likely to be sustained. This augurs well for the future of public health in America,” Mr. Murray said.

The report found that current marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds declined from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 6.8 percent last year. The average age of first use of marijuana rose from younger than 17 in 2003 to nearly 17 last year, another promising indicator.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ annual survey polled about 68,000 people nationally to provide a snapshot of how many Americans drink, smoke and use illegal drugs.

Overall, drug use remained relatively unchanged among Americans 12 and older last year. About 19.7 million Americans reported using an illegal drug in the past 30 days.

Of the new total, 14.6 million said they used marijuana; 2.4 million said they used cocaine; and 6.4 million said they used prescription drugs, such as painkillers, tranquilizers and sedatives, for nonmedical purposes. Use of all three was about the same as in 2004.

The survey also found:

• 23 percent of people 12 and older admitted to binge drinking — having five or more drinks in a row — down one percentage point from 2004.

• 16.5 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds called themselves drinkers, down one percentage point from the previous year.

• About 29 percent of people said they had smoked or chewed tobacco in the past month, but use among 12- to 17-year-olds dropped three percentage points to 10 percent between 2002 and 2005.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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