Teenagers and drugs. It's a frightening combination. And the two came together more often in 1994 than in the previous year.
Marijuana use among teens increased nationwide, and a survey released by the Department of Health and Human Services indicated one of every 30 eighth-graders admitted at least trying cocaine.Eighth-graders are 13 years old, barely into the teen years, really much more children than adults. Trying cocaine at 13 is more dangerous than Russian roulette; it's like holding a pistol to your head and pulling the trigger - but with only one chamber empty instead of only one filled.
Few who experiment with cocaine escape eventual disaster. In fact, the same survey showed cocaine use, the next step to addiction, increased this year among eighth- and 10th-graders.
And the results of illicit drug use are also apparent: Emergency-room visits for overdoses, suicide attempts and drug-related diseases increased by 8 percent.
But what may be the most insidious statistic of the survey is that the percentage of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders who perceive cocaine to be harmful decreased from 62.8 percent in 1991 to 54.5 percent this year.
If young people don't believe drugs can hurt them, they are not likely to give up the temporary "high" for some more healthful form of rec-rea-tion.
The "Just Say No" anti-drug-abuse campaign concentrated on prevention of drug use and addiction rather than treatment of those already hooked. Though "Just Say No" was criticized as too simplistic, studies showed it had some positive effect, especially on the youngest in its audience - those children in elementary grades not yet persuaded by pushers and older peers to try marijuana or cocaine.
HHS is now developing a program to educate younger audiences about the dangers of marijuana. That's good, because studies show most drug use starts with marijuana. This type of education must be part of the government's overall drug-abuse prevention efforts.
Only when children are convinced that drug use invites illness and death will the frightening statistics begin to change.