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Survey Confirms Decline in Teenage Drug Use

By Ori Twersky
WebMD Health News

Dec. 14, 2000 (Washington) -- There's now further proof that the overall use of illicit drugs by American teenagers has now stabilized following the dramatic increases seen in the early 1990s with the release of a new survey Thursday. But while the use of most illicit drugs has declined, U.S. health officials say further measures will need to be taken in order to stem the increasing use of popular new drugs, such as ecstasy.

"This year's survey confirms that teens' use of marijuana and most other drugs has leveled off and even decreased among younger students. And we've also begun to have a positive impact on teen smoking," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala announced at a press conference.

Over the last year, the use of drugs such as marijuana among eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders remained virtually unchanged for the fourth year in a row, according to the survey.

Also, the use of any illicit drug by eighth-graders has in fact somewhat declined from about 22% in 1997 to almost 20% in 2000.

The survey also found that drug use among 10th-graders fell from about 39% to around 36%, and that the drug use among high school seniors edged down less than a percent from about 42% in 1997.

The greatest decline was in the use of cigarettes. Among eighth-graders, the use of cigarettes dropped from more than 17% in 1999 to almost 15% in 2000. Similarly, the use of cigarettes among 12th-graders declined to a little more than 31% in 2000, about a 3% drop from levels a year earlier.

But not all the news is good.

While the use of cigarettes, cocaine, hallucinogenic drugs, and inhalants has declined, the survey also found that the use of heroin and club drugs such as ecstasy -- although staying in the single digits -- is on the rise. Among high school seniors, the use of heroin increased almost one-half a percent from 1999 to 2000, and the use of ecstasy rose almost 3%, the survey found.

For the first time, there also was an increase in ecstasy use among eighth-graders, according to the survey. The survey found that the use of ecstasy by this age group rose more than 1.5% over the past year.

"We've paid particular attention to marijuana and tobacco," Shalala explains. Blaming the increased use of ecstasy on the misperception among teenagers that this drug is relatively safe, HHS is now stepping up its efforts to educate teenagers about the risks associated with ecstasy and other club drugs, Shalala says.

Still, the results demonstrate the Clinton administration's overall drug policy is working, says Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "The biggest problem we have now is drinking," he says.

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