Not-So-High Times For Teen Drug Use?

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"We are greatly encouraged by the results of the MTF Survey," said U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey in a statement on the 26th Monitoring the Future Survey, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute on Drug Abuse in December. "The national drug control strategy is working."

The survey shows remarkable declines in drug use by eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders from 1999 to 2000. The declines cover most drugs, such as marijuana (in eighth and 12th grades), LSD (10th and 12th grade), methamphetamines (eighth grade), cocaine and cigarettes.

But some drugs are on the rise: amphetamines (eighth and 12th graders), smokeless tobacco (12th graders), non-LSD hallucinogens (10th and 12th graders), alcohol inebriation and steroid use by eighth and 10th graders, and MDMA (Ecstacy) in all three grades. Also, heroin and inhalants are up in some categories, with heroin reaching an all-time high.

All three grades are doing drugs less than they were three years ago, but much more than they were in the early '90s, after dropping dramatically and constantly since the late '70s. (This long-term data are only available for 12th graders.)

Experts in the field appear most excited about the drop in smoking, and most concerned about the rise in Ecstacy use. Though Ecstacy use remains lower than some other drugs, such as amphetamines, it has caused alarm because of its rapid proliferation over the past four years, with exponential increases over the last two years.

"It's moving beyond raves," said Dr. James Colliver, acting chief of the epidemiology research branch of NIDA. What's more, what was a trend primarily confined to Northeastern cities is spreading across the country. And "it's moving down the age range." 

But Colliver says that he is "particularly gratified" by the decrease in smoking. Since 1997, the percent of 10th graders who had smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days has decreased by almost six percentage points, from 29.8 percent to 23.9 percent. What's more, though adolescent smoking remains higher than it was in the early '90s, youths in all three grades express a greater understanding about the harm of regular cigarette smoking than any other year since 1990 and, among 12th graders (the only group studied prior to 1990), any year since 1975.

But the drop in cigarette smoking may not indicate a success in the nation's drug control policy, as it may be attributable to statewide efforts, especially those funded by tobacco settlements. But is the overall drop in illicit drugs attributable to federal efforts?

According to Dr. Colliver, marijuana and cocaine are generally the focus of school drug education, because of their popularity. For the most part, both decreased among adolescents from 1999 to 2000, but increased over the past 10 years.

"The big danger is that people will say, 'Well, we solved the problem," says Mathea Falco, president of Drug Strategies. "That's what happened 10 years ago." Falco and Colliver agree that in the early '90s, after a decade of declining drug use among teens, a new generation of teens emerged who had little exposure to the horrors of phenomenally high drug rates. And, says Falco, "we became complacent."

The 2000 Monitoring the Future Survey shows a burgeoning recovery trend after the early '90s surge in adolescent drug use, but certain drugs, such as MDMA and heroin, continue a steady climb, causing many professionals to fear an "epidemic" of either or both.

Contact: National Institute on Drug Abuse (301) 443-1124. The Monitoring the Future Survey is available at

- Amy Bracken