New studies indicate that are using more drugs at a younger age. The research also shows that tobacco, alcohol and marijuana are 'gateways' to harder drugs such as heroin.
America's children are being introduced to drugs, alcohol and tobacco at increasingly younger ages, signaling a growing entrenchment of these addictions, according to one of several recent reports by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, or CASA, at Columbia University. The number of teenagers who know someone who does a "hard drug" -- heroin, cocaine or LSD -- also is growing.
CASA's sobering news appeared to contradict a recent federal report that teen use of illicit drugs, alcohol and smokeless tobacco dropped in 1996. "There's a glimmer of hope here," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala about the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The federal survey, which compiled answers from 18,300 Americans age 12 and older, was hailed as the country's first "tentative good news" on teens and drugs in four years.
But Shalala later issued a statement praising the CASA study for "reenforcing" the basic strategy of the Clinton administration: "to reach our youngsters with the truth substance abuse at a very early age." And retired Army Gen. Barry McCarrey, who heads the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, issued a statement calling the CASA study "another wake-up call that we have not changed youth attitudes about drugs, which, if unchecked, presage future use'"
CASA Chairman Joseph A. Califano Jr., who held Shalala's job during the Carter administration, says that some of the CASA data are more recent than the federal study. A survey of more than 1,000 youths, for example, indicates that the percentage of Americans age 12 to 17 who know someone who uses heroin, cocaine or LSD jumped from 39 percent in 1996 to 56 percent this year. In an even more troubling snapshot, the percentage of 12-year-olds who know a hara-drug user more than doubled, from 10. …