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ERLC’s Duke: Decline in drug use by teens may signal downward trend


WASHINGTON (BP)–The results from a recent survey may reflect the start of a decline in the use of illegal drugs in the United States, a Southern Baptist anti-drug specialist said.
While illicit drug use in the general population remained about the same, the use of illegal drugs by young people ages 12 to 17 fell, according to a survey released by the Department of Health and Human Services. The survey showed about 9.9 percent of young people used drugs in the previous month, as compared to 11.4 percent in 1997. The research also found teenage use of inhalants dropped and first-time use of marijuana declined.
Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he is encouraged, though not elated, by the report. Duke, who deals with alcohol and other drug usage as one of his assignments for the ERLC, pointed to an earlier survey that showed in 1992 only 5.3 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds used illegal drugs in the previous month.
“Today, we are just trying to regain lost ground, and progress is extremely slow,” Duke said. “However, my guess is that this survey represents the beginning of a long-term, downward trend in illicit drug use.
“Statistics indicate that a person who does not begin to use illicit drugs as a teenager is less likely to ever use illicit drugs. The drop in use of illicit drugs by teens in this age group means that we should see a significant decrease in overall illicit drug use in future years as these 12- to 17-year-olds move into the ranks of older age groups.”
Barry McCaffrey, the White House national drug policy director, made similar comments in a written release: “This first major sign of success has occurred because parents, teachers, coaches, ministers and community coalitions are all working together in a comprehensive national and local effort. The future should show additional improvements as well. The fact that the numbers are best for the youngest (12-17) group is a harbinger that use will continue to fall as this group grows older.”
The ERLC’s Duke said, “When one combines this current good news with the renewed efforts of faith groups to reclaim America’s cities for Christ — such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s emphasis on church planting in America’s great cities; the commitment by our government to spend $195 million in anti-drug messages; and numerous anti-drug campaigns that are currently active in our schools — each new generation of Americans will have the hope, the information and the support they need to resist the temptation to ruin their lives with drugs. It is possible that we may never see illicit drug use this prevalent again.”
The survey showed no corresponding decline in alcohol use among young people, however. The rate for 12- to 17-year-olds was 19.1 in 1998 and has remained stable since it fell to 21 percent in 1992. In 1998, the rates among 18- to 25-year-olds of binge drinking (31.7 percent) and heavy alcohol use (13.8 percent) were markedly higher than in 1997, when the rates were 28 and 11.1 percent, respectively.
“Since alcohol is nearly always the first step toward illicit drug use, the federal government must begin to give serious attention to this,” Duke said, “Our federal government must begin immediately to demonize alcohol. Only when teenagers understand the real dangers of alcohol will we have any chance of seeing fewer of them experiment with this deceptive drug.”
The White House drug office’s $195 million anti-drug media campaign will not include warnings about the dangers of alcohol, however.
Other results of the survey released Aug. 18 included:
— About 13.6 million Americans overall (6.2 percent of the population age 12 and older) used illicit drugs, not a significant change from 1997 when it was 13.9 million. The peak came in 1979, when there were 25 million users.
— Marijuana remains the most used illegal drug, with 60 percent of all drug users using marijuana only and another 21 percent reporting the use of marijuana and another illicit drug.
— The rate of Americans 12 and older smoking cigarettes declined from 29.6 percent to 27.7 percent. That is the lowest rate ever found by the survey. According to the survey, about 60 million Americans smoke cigarettes. The rate of cigar use increased, however, from 5.9 percent to 6.9 percent.
— The rate of smoking among those age 18 to 25 continued to increase, from 34.6 percent in 1994 to 40.6 in 1997 and 41.6 in 1998.
— Young people age 12 to 17 who smoke cigarettes were 11.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs and 16 times more likely to drink heavily than those who do not smoke.
— Drug use among young people 12 to 17 was higher among those using cigarettes and alcohol than those abstaining from those substances.