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Health & Parenting

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Survey Confirms Decline in Teenage Drug Use


"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.

The daily use of alcohol among eighth-graders -- the target group for most of the government's educational initiatives -- has declined, according to the survey. But the use of alcohol continued to remain relatively high, with about 43% of eighth-graders, 65% of 10th-graders, and 73% of 12th-graders reporting the use of alcohol at least once during the past year, McCaffrey points out.

"The most destructive drug in America is alcohol, bar none," McCaffrey says.

The good news is that the Bush administration will most likely follow in the present administration's footsteps, ensuring the continuation of present initiatives, both McCaffrey and Shalala say. "We have worked very hard to build bipartisan support," Shalala says.

But for further progress to be made, the battle against illicit drug use will have to continue in full swing, Shalala says. "Congress needs to pass our budget so we can increase our investments in research, prevention, and treatment," Shalala says. "We can turn the tide with a comprehensive strategy that includes research and science-based programs, targeted messages that teach but don't preach, and with very strong partnerships -- where government and community leaders work together," she says.

Nonetheless, parents in particular will have to take a more active role for this strategy to succeed, Shalala says. "Parents need to sit down with their children and talk frankly about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. If parents used substances when they were young -- be frank about that, too," Shalala says. "Don't think of a message against drugs as hypocrisy; think of it as wisdom," she advises.

The survey is one of the three major surveys used by HHS to measure illicit drug use in America. This year's survey looked at 45,000 students in 435 schools across the nation. Earlier this year, these trends also were outlined in a household survey of youths aged 12 to 17.

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