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New Study Says 18 Percent of Teen-Agers Use Drugs

September 26, 1996

WASHINGTON _ A private study suggests the government may be greatly underestimating the number of teen-agers who are regular drug users. And more and more of them tend to get ``very high, bombed or stoned.″

About 18 percent of students in junior and senior high school say they use illegal drugs every month, according to a study released Wednesday by the National Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education.

That’s much higher than the findings from a Department of Health and Human Services study released last month that said 10.4 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds used illegal drugs monthly in 1995. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse said teen-age drug use had nearly doubled from 5.3 percent in 1992.

Officials don’t know why the two surveys differ. Numbers in the annual study by PRIDE, which surveyed nearly 130,000 teen-agers, are historically higher than the HHS survey, which included about 4,500 teen-agers, said PRIDE executive director Doug Hall.

Of students who do drugs, more are getting ``very high, bombed or stoned,″ than in PRIDE’s first survey nine years ago. When using marijuana, nearly 74 percent of high school seniors said they get very high, compared with about 63 percent in 1987-88. About 36 percent of 12th-grade beer drinkers said they get very high compared with 27 percent nine years ago.

``This is not so-called recreational use. ... This is not experimentation. This is monthly, weekly, and daily use,″ Hall said.

The problem of teen-age drug use has become a hot topic this election year. Republican Bob Dole jumped on the HHS report last month as an opportunity to call for better moral leadership from President Clinton.

``The motto of the Clinton administration seems to be `We just don’t care’ and so they are unwilling to act in responsible and effective ways,″ said William Bennett, drug policy director under President Bush.

But Clinton’s drug policy director Barry McCaffrey called Wednesday for less politicking and more cooperation in fixing the problem.

``The drug problem in America is parents, not politics,″ McCaffrey said. ``This election’s coming and going, and after the election America’s kids are still going to have a drug challenge.″

McCaffrey said the solution lies in greater parental involvement.

``A good number of our young Americans _ probably 80 percent _ essentially are drug-free. And when we ask them `How come?′ they say by enormous margins, `Because I’m fearful of disappointing my parents or fearful of the consequences,‴ he said.

Other findings include:

_About 30 percent of all students grades 6-12 used drugs in the past school year, up from about 19 percent in 1987-88.

_About 89 percent of students said their teachers had warned them about drugs, compared with about 30 percent who said their parents talked to them about the dangers of drugs.

_Among five choices, students were most likely to smoke marijuana at a friend’s home, 16.8 percent, and least likely to smoke pot at school, 4.2 percent.

The ninth annual PRIDE study involved 129,560 students from 26 states during the September to June school year. Participating schools were sent the questionnaire with instructions for administering the anonymous survey.

HHS’s National Household Survey on Drug Use surveyed 17,747 people, including 4,595 in the 12-to-17 age group.

Atlanta-based PRIDE is a nonprofit group offering drug prevention programs for parents, youth, schools, businesses and governments. The group is funded by private donations and by the 5,500 school systems who request and use PRIDE questionnaires to monitor student drug abuse.

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