Teen drug, alcohol use lowest in a decade, survey says

Wednesday, July 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Drug, alcohol and cigarette use among sixth- to 12th-graders is at the lowest level in years, partly because adults are doing more to keep their kids away from illicit substances, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Parents and teachers are warning students about drug use and encouraging kids to nurture other interests by joining extracurricular school and religious activities, the 2001-02 Pride Survey said.

The percentage of students using any illicit drug _ including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and others _ dropped to 22.3 percent, the lowest level registered by the study since the 1993-94 school year.

The percentages of high school students who said they drank alcohol, 65 percent, or smoked cigarettes, 36 percent, in the previous 12 months were the lowest in the 15-year history of the Pride Surveys.

The results, from data collected between August 2001 and last month, are the ``best report on adolescent behaviors in over a decade'' and may reflect a cultural reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, officials said.

``Following 9/11, Americans seemed to refocus on family, community, spirituality and nation,'' said survey author Thomas J. Gleaton. ``That renewed awareness shows up in the data.''

``The Sept. 11 attacks sent shock waves through our nation's schools just as kids were beginning their school year,'' said John P. Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy. ``This year's Pride Survey suggests that young Americans may be taking their lives and communities more seriously by saying no to drugs.''

The survey was conducted at schools which contracted with Pride Surveys to question students during the 2001-02 academic year. The questionnaires were answered, voluntarily and anonymously, by 101,882 students in 21 states.

A 1998 federal law named the Atlanta-based survey as a measure of the effectiveness of White House drug policy.

In the 2000-01 survey, the percentage of 12th-graders who used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months had remained constant for the fifth straight year at about 41 percent. This year's survey, however, shows a decline to 37 percent.

Kids who are warned away from drugs and encouraged to engage in extracurricular activities are less likely to take drugs, the survey found.

Among students whose teachers warned them away from drugs ``a lot,'' 15 percent used illicit substances. In contrast, 32 percent of students whose teachers ``never'' talked to them about the subject used drugs, the survey found.

Among kids who participated in extracurricular school programs, 17 percent used drugs, compared with 32 percent of kids who don't participate.

Similarly, among kids who attended religious services ``a lot,'' 13 percent used drugs. Among kids who ``never'' attended services, 36 percent used drugs.

Gleaton said that some individual anti-drug campaigns resulted in a decrease in drug use.

In Ohio, for example, Pride Surveys found that nine out of 10 students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 said they have seen and heard anti-drug commercials on television and radio within the previous three months. Seventy-four percent of respondents there said the commercials have made them less likely to use drugs.

The national survey found some signs, however, that certain drugs have taken firm hold among teens. Among sixth- through eighth-graders, the use of cocaine, downers and heroin was unchanged for annual and monthly use. Monthly inhalant and hallucinogen use also remained level, the survey said.

Among 12th-graders, the monthly use of cocaine, heroin and steroids remained the same, according to the survey.