TOPICS > Health

Background: Teen Drug Abuse

August 20, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Two new government reports about drug use were released today, and the news was alarming, particularly when it comes to drug use among teenagers. Between 1992 and 1995 the number of teenagers who said they’d used drugs in the past month doubled. That was the result of the national household survey on drug abuse released today by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In 1995, the figure was nearly 11 percent of teens aged twelve to seventeen said they used drugs in the past month. In 1992, the drug use was at its lowest, just 5.3 percent said they’d use drugs in the past month. The one-year increases from 1994 to 1995 were also alarming in virtually every category of drugs.

Overall drug use among teens was up 24 percent between ’94 and ’95 because marijuana use was up 37 percent. The use of LSD and other hallucinogens was up 54 percent, and cocaine use was up 166 percent. The second report on drug-related emergencies and deaths among all ages found marijuana-related emergency room admissions have nearly doubled since 1992.

Cocaine and heroine-related emergencies are also on the rise. At a press conference today Health & Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said she was disturbed by the numbers.

DONNA SHALALA, Secretary, HHS: When it comes to youth drug use, this year’s household survey confirms what we have been saying all along, that while the vast majority of young people do not use illicit drugs, increasing numbers are reaching drugs and risking their futures. I spend a lot of my time talking to parents and to young people about this tragedy. And what all of us can do to stop it, and wherever I go, there are usually two questions that I’m asked.

The first is, when did these increases begin? The answer is, according to the science, is 1991 and 1992. Data from the Monitoring the Future Survey indicate that the increase of marijuana use for eighth graders began in 1991. Data on 12 to 17 year olds from the National Household Survey indicate that the upward trend began in 1992, and our studies show that student disapproval rates for marijuana began to decline in 1990. In other words, there’s a relationship between kids thinking that marijuana is not harmful and their use of marijuana.

What we’re seeing is something very serious, a multi-year trend that began before we came to Washington. Before this administration came to Washington, this trend began, but it continues today. Not something that just happened recently, and it’s not something that’s going to go away on its own.

The second question I’m often asked is: How does youth drug use today compare with past? The answer is that we’re still far below the peak years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Monitoring the Future Survey put monthly drug use by high school seniors at, at near 39 percent. This is a vitally important fact. Young people need to know that drug use is not the norm among their peers. Everybody is not doing it, but it’s younger and younger kids, and that’s the real fear. And those youngsters are influenced most by their parents, and by the institutions that deal with them, and that’s the reason for a community-based strategy.

These kids do not know whether they’re Republicans are Democrats yet. They’re the kids of Democrats and Republicans. And we need to approach this at a community-based level, re-enforcing parents’ efforts to convince their youngsters that drugs of every kind are dangerous. This is a bipartisan issue. These are all of our children. And they’re getting into drugs at a younger and younger age, and both parties need to join together as–in the kind of coalition the General [McCaffrey] is talking about, because these children are, in fact, our future.