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Teen drug use, smoking declines as pro-marijuana group goes on offensive


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Fewer teenagers are choosing to use illegal drugs, drink alcohol and smoke, according to an annual survey conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The declines are being reported at a time when the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has announced a new offensive against the Bush administration’s anti-drug policy.

The survey for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, known as “Monitoring the Future,” is conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and tracks substance abuse among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders using a randomly selected sample of 44,000 students in 400 schools, according to The New York Times Dec. 17. It is said to be the most reliable indicator of teenage substance abuse.

The study found:

— For eighth-graders, the annual prevalence of marijuana use in 2002 of 14.6 percent is down from the recent peak of 18.3 percent in 1996. At 30.3 percent in 2002, annual marijuana use for 10th-graders is now somewhat below the recent 1997 peak of 34.8 percent, and 12th-graders are down slightly from the 1997 peak of 38.5 percent to 36.2 percent in 2002.

— Eighth-graders who said they had consumed alcohol in the previous year declined 3.2 percent; the decline was 3.5 percent among 10th-graders.

— Eighth-graders who had a drink in the previous year fell to 38.7 percent this year from 45.5 percent in 1996.

— Use of any drug other than marijuana in the previous year dropped 2 percentage points among eighth-graders, 2.1 percentage points among 10th-graders and 0.7 percentage points among 12th-graders.

— Among eighth-graders, the use of drugs other than marijuana is one-third lower than it was in 1996, and annual use is down about 15 percent among 10th-graders since its peak in 1996, The Times reported based on the survey.

— Among eighth-graders, the proportion who have ever smoked has dropped by half since 1996, to 10.7 percent from 21 percent.

— Also among eighth-graders, 81 percent said they prefer to date nonsmokers, up from 71 percent in 1996. Among 12th graders, 72 percent said they prefer to date nonsmokers, up from 64 percent in 1996.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ initiative against the Bush administration’s anti-drug policy was launched after Scott Burns, deputy director for state and local affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control, said in a letter to the National District Attorney’s Association that “marijuana is not harmless but has risen as a factor in emergency room visits 176 percent since 1964, surpassing heroin.”

Keith Stroup, executive director of NORML, called the administration’s stand against marijuana an “incredibly disgusting example of government propaganda,” according to CNSNews.com.

“This war against marijuana smokers has become a jihad. It’s a holy war for these [Bush administration] fools. Truth is a first victim of war,” Stroup said in an interview with the news service.

Barrett Duke, vice president for research with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said those who are committed to the legalization of marijuana and other illicit drugs will see a threat to their own efforts in the trend of teenagers moving away from such substances.

“We can expect the drug war to heat up even more as those of us opposed to drug use step up our efforts to make sure the decline in drug use continues and those opposed to us do all they can to negate our efforts,” Duke said. “Fortunately, it appears that the anti-drug forces have the upper hand. Consequently, NORML and others like them will be forced to wage this campaign on our terms, spending energy and resources combating our life-affirming messages rather than framing the debate and making us react to them.

“The clash of ideals will be severe, but we cannot back down now,” Duke continued. “The lives and futures of millions of Americans are at stake. For their sake, we must continue to fight this war on drugs on every front.”

Assessing the declines in drug usage among teens, Duke said, “No doubt there are many reasons for this decline, and perhaps no one knows all of them. However, I would suggest some factors that have helped to contribute to this decline. First, there has been an obvious increase in anti-drug messages. Today, anti-drug messages appear regularly in all media formats.

“Secondly, tightened national security related to the 9/11 attack on our nation is likely making it more difficult for drugs to enter the country. Third, we have a president whose life provides a positive role model for our young people. Teenagers who are affected by President Bush will embrace conservative values, which will tend to steer them away from drugs.”

A fourth reason why substance abuse among teens has fallen could be that teenagers are taking life more seriously now, Duke said. The events of Sept. 11, their aftermath, all of the subsequent international conflict and uncertainty about the future have collectively cast a shadow over all areas of life in America, he explained.

“Perhaps, not since World War II have our young people been so deeply affected. They have come to understand in very brutal terms that all of life is not fun and games, and more of them are responding to the seriousness of life by taking more precautions about their own futures and well-being,” Duke told Baptist Press.
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  • Erin Curry