WASHINGTON -- Illegal drug use and cigarette smoking among sixth- through 12th-graders increased slightly during the last school year compared with the year before, says a survey released Wednesday. Alcohol use remained at the same level during both academic years.
Nearly one-fourth, or 24 percent, of these teenagers reported using illegal drugs at least once in the 2002-2003 school year, compared with to 22 percent in 2001-2002, according to the Pride Survey, which is an independent assessment of adolescent drug use and other behaviors.
The survey found a 1 percentage point increase in cigarette use, to 27 percent in 2003, up from 26 percent the year before. About half of these students reported drinking alcohol each year.
While the increases are not striking, the survey's author, Thomas J. Gleaton, said the question is, how much teenage drug use is the nation willing to accept?
Alcohol and drug use remain the top problem facing young people, the report says. Teenagers who use them risk becoming addicted and put themselves in greater danger of dropping out of school, committing crime, attempting suicide or becoming involved in other dangerous behaviors.
Most substance abuse occurs after school hours -- at nights and on weekends.
"If one in four teens using drugs is acceptable, we have done well in controlling drugs over the past decade," Gleaton said. "If a quarter of our youth on drugs is unacceptable, we need stronger action to truly dent teen problems."
Schools, communities and states have used Pride Survey data since 1982 to gather information on student drug and alcohol abuse.
The information in the latest survey was based on responses from a sample of 109,919 students. Nearly 460,000 adolescents from across the country anonymously answered questionnaires between August 2002 and June 2003 about their use of these substances. State breakdowns were not included in the survey.