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Editorial: Illegal drug use declines among teenagers

Monday, December 23, 2002

As horrible as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were, some trends have emerged since then that are positive.

First, we noticed increased patriotism. Then it seemed people seemed to be treating strangers and people from different cultures a little better.

And now we find that fewer of our nation's teenagers are using illegal drugs than before the attacks.

That's what a recently released survey called Monitoring the Future revealed. Researchers surveyed 44,000 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 394 schools nationwide.

Lloyd D. Johnston, who directed the University of Michigan study, made the link between the terrorist attacks and the drop in drug use, suggesting that terrorism had a sobering effect on young people.

Certainly it should. All Americans, even the youngest ones, need their wits about them in these times and should be contributing to the nation's well-being, not its ills.

The numbers were encouraging. Among them:

In 1996, 26 percent of eighth-graders surveyed said they had consumed alcohol in the last month. This year, only 20 percent did.

There has been a 50 percent decline in smoking among eighth-graders since 1996.

Marijuana use is down in all three groups, dropping most dramatically in eighth-graders.

The number of 10th-grade students using any type of illicit drugs dropped to its lowest level since 1995.

LSD use among high-school seniors dropped to its lowest level in 28 years.

In addition to the effect of the terrorist attacks, it can be hoped that one contributing reason for the decline is the time and taxpayer dollars spent trying to educate young people about the dangers of illegal drugs.

John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control policy, said the survey confirms the results of his agency's drug-prevention efforts.

For instance, since Ecstacy use exploded in the 1990s, there has been a huge push to teach teens about the brain, heart and kidney damage linked to that drug. The numbers of Ecstacy users has dropped dramatically, although the drug still is around at parties promising an unparalleled -- and dangerous -- burst of energy and euphoria.

And that highlights an important fact to note about the latest survey: None of the numbers is at zero. Half of all 12th-graders reported using an illicit drug, with marijuana being the most popular.

It's doubtful that half of all parents of 12th-graders would say they're aware their children are using an illegal drug.

No matter how encouraging survey numbers are, those who care about teens must realize that the battle against drugs rages every day and touches, directly or indirectly, just about every child.


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