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MARIJUANA USE DOUBLES AMONG EIGHTH-GRADERS

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Marijuana use among eighth-graders has more than doubled since 1991, and researchers blame a more relaxed attitude toward drug experimentation and abuse.

Twenty-five percent of eighth-graders said they had used an illicit drug at least once during their lifetimes, up from 22.5 percent last year, according to a University of Michigan survey released Monday. The 1994 figure rises to 35 percent when inhalants are included.Thirteen percent of all eighth-graders surveyed said they had used marijuana at least once in the preceding 12 months. That was up sharply from 9.2 percent in 1993 and more than twice the 6.2 percent just three years ago.

Increases in use of harder drugs such as LSD and other hallucinogens, stimulants, cocaine and crack were less dramatic.

Although this year's overall abuse rates remain below those of the 1970s, there is clear evidence of a gradual upward swing, Lloyd D. Johnston, the study's lead researcher, said during a Washington news conference.

About 52,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders from 420 public and private secondary schools filled out questionnaires for the yearly survey.

Among the most alarming findings was evidence that drug abuse is growing among students who have not yet reached high school.

"We're talking about 13-year-olds," Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said at a news conference. "We're not just here to sound the alarm. We're here to issue a call to action. . . . We have a chance - right here and now - to lock arms and send a powerful anti-drug message to our children."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, blamed the increase on the Clinton administration. "Two years of decreased prosecution, increased hand-wringing about treatment and hard-core addicts, retreat on interdiction efforts and an abandoned bully pulpit has lead to increased drug use," he said.

Hatch, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will hold hearings on the administration's new drug strategy after details about it are released in February.

The aggressive anti-drug messages of the 1980s have receded into the background, Johnston said. "The arduously woven fabric of attitudes, beliefs and peer norms which brought about that decline (in the 1980s) is beginning to unravel," he said.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which sponsors advertising, sees fewer anti-drug news stories and television themes. "Conversely, we're seeing drug abuse, and specifically marijuana use, talked about positively in rock and rap music, in television programming and in other areas like fashion," it said in a statement.