ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We begin tonight with a two-part look at drugs. First, a new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. It shows that preteen exposure to hard drugs appears to be on the increase. The survey found that the percentage of 12-year-olds who said they knew a friend or classmate who used acid, cocaine, or heroin more than doubled between 1996 and 1997. Last year, less than 11 percent said they knew a hard drug user. This year, almost a quarter said they did, an increase of 122 percent. We get more on this now from Joseph Califano, the president of the National Center. Thank you for being with us, Mr. Califano.
JOSEPH CALIFANO: My pleasure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: These figures about the 12-year-olds have been getting a lot of attention today. What are the implications of these figures? Does it mean that these kids are using these hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, themselves?
JOSEPH CALIFANO: I think the implication is certainly that. The implication also is that these drugs, like cocaine and heroin and acid, are moving down to younger and younger children.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me just one second. Isn't it possible that when asked the question do you know anybody that used it, they could be talking about an older, very much older friend, or sibling?
JOSEPH CALIFANO: A friend, but not a classmate. Unfortunately, we didn't break out friends and classmates in the question. But to the extent that their classmates are involved, there's also other evidence that drugs and substance abuse generally is beginning at younger and younger ages for American kids. Our work and, indeed, the government figures that were released last week indicate, for example, that the first use of cocaine, marijuana, daily cigarette smoking, and hallucinogens is at younger and younger ages. By and large, kids are using these substances at the youngest ages ever. And that's very disturbing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm glad you brought up the study last week because we reported that on the NewsHour and I wanted you to explain this to us, because that study indicated that drug use between the ages of 12 and 17 was actually holding steady, or even going down in some cases.
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Well, it indicated that overall drug use was holding steady, with respect to illicit drugs going down slightly, and that marijuana use was about level. What we're talking about is the age at which kids initiate first-use drugs, first binge drink, for example, and first become daily smokers. Those ages are the lowest that they've ever been in the history of this country. We have a situation, for example, in which we have a million eighth graders who admit that they have been binge drinking. We have a situation in which we have kids smoking on a daily basis at younger ages than ever before, and we had a large proportion of eighth graders--about 17 or 18 percent--saying I had my first cigarette in the fifth grade.
I also think it's important to note when we start talking about 12-year-olds, you know, we're really talking in many cases about sixth and seventh grade kids. And this is disturbing because the work we've done at CASA, at the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, at Columbia University indicates that the younger a child uses drugs and the more frequently a child uses drugs or drinks or smokes cigarettes, the more likely it is that that child will severely damage or, indeed, destroy his or her life.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to go into that in just a second, but first on the question of the age of initiation being so much younger, why is this happening?
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Well, we really don't know. I mean, I think that there are a lot of factors involved here. I mean, one, there's, you know, in the culture of our society we have gone through for girls more than boys, for example, a heroin chic look, and remember--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're talking about models that are really thin and hollow-eyed and look like--
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Yes. And consciously develop like that, and you have to remember, you know, Vogue is the magazine that a large proportion of readers are 12 and 13 year old girls, for example. Secondly, the baby boomer parents, many of them are very ambivalent about marijuana use because of their own experiences when they were in their 20's. And this ambivalence gets down to their kids. Thirdly, we had a tremendous increase in smoking in movies. It's back the way it was in the 30's in many respects, and the 40's, in which everybody lights up a cigarette. And who goes to movies? I mean, you know, young teens are a big part of the movie going population. And I think that there's just a general cultural milieu into which these kids are thrown. And that's a big part of it. There's obviously peer pressure. That's a part of it. But if you ask me precisely why, the answer is I don't think anybody knows precisely why.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, looking at the statistical relationship between the smoking and drinking, or using marijuana and the harder stuff, explain that. Your study brings up some biomedical discoveries that have been made.
JOSEPH CALIFANO: There are two aspects here. One, for two years we've been working at Columbia to try and isolate smoking and drinking and marijuana use from other problem behavior like carrying a weapon or promiscuous sexual behavior, or fighting or truancy, or attempted suicides because most of the correlations that are made don't separate that out. We're interested in defining the smoking and drinking for a teenager in and of itself. I mean, that it's more likely that that teenager would use marijuana. And for the first time we've now demonstrated by analyzing all the data and tapes and the Center for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which surveys about more than 10,000 teenagers, we've identified for the first time that a teen who smokes and drinks, that alone is going to make it 30 times likelier that that teen will use marijuana. And a teen who drinks, smokes, and uses marijuana in and of itself that activity is going to make it 17 times likelier that that teen will use cocaine, heroin, acid, those kinds of drugs.
The other point that I think is important is the biomedical point which you raise. The biomedical point is we now have recent studies indicating that nicotine and cocaine and heroin and alcohol have the same kinds of effects on dopamine levels, which are the levels that give us pleasure, in the pathways to the brain. So we now have both statistical and biomedical evidence that makes it very important for us to substantially increase our research and makes it clear--one other thing makes it quite clear that marijuana no longer deserves to be called a soft drug. We have one of those recent studies indicates that marijuana is physically addictive, not simply psychologically addictive, and the head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse has indicated that there are more than 100,000 Americans, most of them teens, in treatment because of marijuana use. So I think we've got to call marijuana from now on a hard drug just like heroin and cocaine and acid.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We don't have a lot of time left, but what are you recommending that Americans do about this?
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Well, I think the role for the government is greatly to step up biomedical research, both in substance abuse and in adolescence. Adolescence is the most neglected period of life. It's very important that we really spend money to learn how to influence teens and what they're going through. But by and large, most of the recommendations in the Commission report are for parents, be involved in their kid's life, you know, go to the school activities, help them with their homework, pursue religious activities together for schools, for churches. This battle is not a battle that's going to be won or lost in Washington. What we're talking about is something that's going to be fought out over the kitchen table, in the living room, in the classroom, in the schoolyard, in the church pew, in the neighborhood. That's where we've got to wage this and that's where we've got to deal with it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Califano, thanks for being with us.
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Thank you very much.