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  Teen Drug Use Continues Decline

By Anjetta McQueen
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, Aug. 31, 2000; 1:40 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– Teen-agers are continuing to shun illegal drugs, with reported use falling for a second year in a row, the government said Thursday.

Though more young adults are reporting drug use, federal health officials and interest groups said a survey shows that anti-drug messages are nipping lifelong abuse in the bud.

"It's going to go down again for sure next year," Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton's drug policy adviser, said of teen drug use. "These prevention and education programs are working."

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse was released by McCaffrey and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

In the survey, 9 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds questioned said they had used an illegal drug such as marijuana or heroin within the previous month. That is down from 9.9 percent who said they did so in 1998; and the 11.4 percent that did so in 1997.

However, at the news conference Shalala repeatedly stressed a deep downward trend from 1997 through 1999, billing it as "a statistically significant decline."

Use among young adults, 18-to-25-year-olds, continued its steady rise, according to the household survey of 67,000 people ages 12 and up.

"None of us can afford to let down our guard in the fight against drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse, especially when it comes to our children," President Clinton said in a statement. He urged Congress to fund his administration's substance abuse and treatment programs when it returns next week.

According to the survey, illicit drug use among 18-to-25-year-olds climbed from 14.7 percent in 1997 to 18.8 percent last year.

The survey also tracked tobacco and alcohol use among teen-agers in the likelihood such youth would also use illegal drugs.

McCaffrey cautioned there is not a statistically provable relationship but said parents need to be aware that if their children use tobacco or alcohol, that can be an entry to drug use.

McCaffrey said his office's drug prevention message has focused on tobacco and alcohol "since the day I got here." He said the $200 million media campaign in 11 different languages is getting results.

Groups bent on trying to curb use of illegal drugs said there's still more work to do.

"While the downturn in teen drug use shows that prevention and education efforts help deter our youth from substance abuse, even greater long-term success could be achieved if treatment programs had more support," said David Lewis, project director for Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy, an advocacy group of doctors.

"Once the anti-drug ads have faded from the television screen, the problems facing those addicted to drugs will still remain," said Lewis, who contended drug treatment centers and programs are underfunded.

"When a 15-year-old drug abuser finally screws up his courage to seek treatment," he said, "do we really want him to be told, "That's nice, but you need to come back later."

Shalala said: "We have miles to go when 14.8 million Americans were current users of illicit drugs in 1999."

This year the survey also provided results for individual states.

Teen drug use was more prevalent in the Southwest, Great Plains and Northeast. For all age groups, drug use was most common in the West and parts of Appalachia and New England.

Shalala said the state data will be used to set goals for government-financed community drug prevention programs.

"We're going to help communities cultivate a substance abuse treatment system that is responsive to current and emerging needs."

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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