After declining in recent years, drug use among American teens generally held steady this year, though there were slight increases in adolescents' use of anabolic steroids and the drug ecstasy, according to the annual Monitoring the Future study released by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research yesterday. The report also noted that teen smoking dropped slightly but was still well above rates in the early 1990s.
Drugs that showed little change in use this year included marijuana, amphetamines, hallucinogens, tranquilizers and heroin. The only significant decline was in the use of crack cocaine among eighth and 10th graders, after several years of gradually increasing use.
"We are down some from the recent peak levels in overall illicit drug use by American teenagers, which were reached in 1996 and 1997, but not much of that improvement occurred this year," said University of Michigan researcher Lloyd D. Johnston. "I am hopeful that this is just a pause in a longer-term decline."
Clinton administration officials hailed the findings and said aggressive local and national efforts to combat drug abuse must continue.
"Today's report confirms that we have halted the dangerous trend of increased drug use among our young people," said Donna E. Shalala, secretary of health and human services. "Our job now is to continue the momentum we have built up with local communities, parents and teachers, and to work even harder to let teenagers know the real danger of alcohol, tobacco and drugs."
The use of anabolic steroids by males in their early to mid-teens increased slightly this year, a change that researchers attributed to the publicity attending home-run king Mark McGwire's use of androstenedione, a steroid that he dropped early this year. "Surely it gave them the idea it could make them stronger, though we have no questions dealing directly with that belief," Johnston said.
The study also said older teens had increased their use of ecstasy, called the "club drug" because of its use at clubs and all-night dances known as raves. About 4.4 percent of 10th graders reported using the drug, up from 3.3 percent last year; 5.6 percent of high school seniors said they had used the drug, an increase of 2 percentage points.
"While the use of this drug had been declining since we first measured it in 1996, for some reason it made a resurgence in 1999," Johnston said.
Use of marijuana remained stable across age groups this year, with 23.1 percent of high school seniors sampled anonymously saying they had smoked marijuana over the past month and 6 percent saying they do so on a daily basis, virtually the same figures as the prior year.
"We do not have any ready explanations of why the use of marijuana and a number of other drugs seemed to level off in 1999," Johnston said.
The study also found that the proportion of teens who smoke cigarettes declined somewhat this year, although 34.6 percent of high school seniors said that they had smoked one or more cigarettes in the past month. "Over one-third of today's young people are active smokers by the time they leave high school," Johnston said. "In fact, more than one in every six is an active smoker as early as eighth grade. These rates are well above smoking rates in the early '90s, when teen smoking began to increase substantially."
The Michigan study has been tracking high school seniors for 25 years and following eighth and 10th graders for the past nine years. The survey included 45,000 students from 433 schools across the country.
Teens and Drugs
The annual Monitoring the Future study tracks how many teenagers have used illicit drugs in the past year or ever in their lifetime. Here are some of the results from this year's survey.
Percent of teenagers who have ever used an illicit drug
Grade Marijuana Ecstasy Cocaine Crack Speed Heroin
8th 22% 3% 5% 3% 11% 2%
10th 41 6 8 4 16 2
12th 50 8 10 5 16 2
SOURCE: University of Michigan Institute for Social Research