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Teen Drug Use Continues to Decline


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Aug. 31, 2000 (Washington) -- In the war against drugs, teens seem to be doing the best job in heeding the battle cry. A government report released Thursday shows that more American teen-agers continued to reject the use of illegal drugs for the second year in a row during 1999, effectively reversing an upward trend that began in 1992. But while the news about teens seems good, there still are areas for concern, as it appears that those who used drugs as teens several years ago continue to do so today as young adults.

"This year's survey definitely shows that we've not only turned the corner -- we're heading for home plate," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who released the results at the news conference along with White House drug czar Barry McCaffey. "But let me be clear: We have a long way to go," Shalala conceded, noting that 14.8 million Americans were using illegal drugs in 1999.

The news also varies by age group. According to the annual survey, use of marijuana and other drugs among 12- to 17-year-olds declined from 12% in 1997 to 9% in 1999. But at the same time, among young adults ages 18 to 25, substance abuse continued to rise. About 19% of 18- to 25-year-olds used an illicit drug in 1999, compared to 14.7% in 1997, according to the household survey of about 13,000 respondents ages 12 and older.

Still, the results do show that President Clinton's prevention and education programs are working, McCaffey maintained. The increase in illicit drug use among 18- to 25-year-olds is a clear sign that the administration is targeting the right age group, he explained.

"We first began to see increased drug use among this age group several years ago, when they were teens," McCaffey said. "The study's conclusion linking the age of first use with higher dependency rates also demonstrates the importance of our drug prevention efforts. Plain and simple, the younger a person is when first trying marijuana, the greater the risk of drug dependency later," he noted.

Marijuana remained the most popular illegal drug among American youth in 1999, according to the survey. But more than half of drug users had also tried heroine, cocaine, and other illegal drugs as they grew older, the survey concludes.

The survey also makes estimates about alcohol and tobacco use and presents such use by U.S. state. According to the survey, an estimated 66.8 million Americans used a tobacco product in 1999, and about 105 million used alcohol at least once during the 30 days prior to their interview. The prevalence of alcohol abuse was highest in the Northern states and the Midwest region, while the use of tobacco products was more prevalent in the South.

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