By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007 2:11 PM
President Bush today hailed a decade-long decline in teen drug use as proof that his administration's drug interdiction efforts are working, citing an annual study that shows no dramatic drops from last year but confirmed a significant reduction since 1997 in the number of young people experimenting with illegal drugs.
Teens in the 2007 "Monitoring the Future" study reported that their use of most drugs either became less frequent or held steady during the previous 12 months. But researchers noted a gradual increase during the past few years in the number of teenagers using the drug known as ecstasy, following a period of sharp decline. They said the percentage of students who see "great risk" in using ecstasy has gone down in the past few years and theorized that students may be more willing to experiment with ecstasy because of a "generational forgetting" of the hazards widely associated with the drug when its usage peaked in the late 1990s.
The 33rd national survey showed the percentage of eighth-graders who had used any illegal drug at least once in the past year fell from 24 percent to 13 percent between 1997 and 2007. The percentage of 10th-graders in the same category fell from 39 percent in 1997 to 28 percent this year; and the percent of 12th-graders using an illicit drug in the past 12 months dropped from 42 percent in 1997 to 36 percent this year.
Declines for the past year were mostly modest or statistically insignificant, according to the study, which is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed and conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.
Use of marijuana, which remains the most widely used illicit drug, fell slightly -- with 10.3 percent of eighth-graders saying they had used it in the past year, compared to 11.7 percent in 2006. Rates of illicit use of amphetamines, Ritalin and methamphetamines also fell modestly.
The rates of use of cocaine, crack cocaine, LSD and other hallucinogens, heroin and most prescription-type psychoactive drugs held steady during the past year among teens surveyed, but thanks to sharp declines earlier this decade remain much lower, for the most part, than they were a decade ago.
Illegal use of certain prescription narcotics, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, showed no systemic change over the past year, the study said. More than one in 20 high school seniors reported trying OxyContin in 2007, and nearly one in 10 high school seniors said they had tried Vicodin.
Bush, speaking to an audience of drug-policy experts, enforcement officials, treatment workers and recovering addicts, said the declines documented by the study proved the success of his efforts to curb teen drug use during the past six years.
While the numbers had begun to decline significantly when Bush pledged in 2002 to cut drug use among young people by 25 percent, they continued to fall for the next several years.
The study released this morning showed a 24 percent drop since 2001 in the number of teens acknowledging drug use within a month of the survey being taken, the White House said. It showed a 25 percent drop in marijuana use over the same period, and a drop of more than 50 percent in the rate of ecstasy use among teens.
Bush said he wanted to "celebrate progress" while acknowledging that there is still work to be done on curbing teen drug use.
"Thousands of children still live in homes torn apart by drugs. Thousands more are still considering whether to try drugs for the first time," Bush said. "It's up to all Americans to be involved in this important struggle against drug addiction. It's up to all of us to urge our fellow citizens to make the right choice -- and to help those who make the wrong choice understand the consequences and that there is a more hopeful future."