DRUG ABUSE Good News, Bad News

Article excerpt

A federal study shows illegal drug use among teenagers fell in 1998, a welcome reprieve from the rising numbers of the mid-1990s.

The annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse study, the best snapshot of nationwide drug use available, indicated that 9.9 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds had used some sort of drugs within the past month, which was down from 11.4 percent in 1997.

The number of teens saying they had never used drugs dropped as well, from 18.8 percent to 16.4 percent last year.

The study defined illicit drugs to include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, hallucinogens (LSD, PCP) and non-medical use of drugs such as stimulants and sedatives.

The results prompted Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to say, "It looks like we have turned the corner with today's report."

However, there's still a long way to go, she said.

"We have a long way to go because more than a million young people are dependent on drugs. As far as we're concerned, that's a million too many."

Despite some good news from the latest survey, drug use among teens is almost double what it was in 1992 when 5.3 percent of youths 12-17 reported current use of illegal drugs.

The number of young adults aged 18 to 25 who are current drug users also is up -- almost 3 percent since 1994.

Overall drug use among all ages remained steady in 1988 at 13.6 million users, or 6.2 percent of the population. Rates among both African-Americans and Hispanics are rising, and more people across the board are using heroin and at a younger age.

On a positive note, the overall estimate for people using drugs in 1988 pales to 1979, when illicit drug use was at its peak with an estimated 25 million users. …