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Teen drug, cigarette use rising, study says

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Illegal drug use and cigarette smoking among sixth- through 12th-graders increased slightly during the last school year compared with the year before, says a survey released Wednesday. Alcohol use remained at the same level during both years.

Nearly one-fourth, or 24 percent, of these teenagers reported using illegal drugs — marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and others — at least once in the 2002-2003 school year, compared with 22 percent the year before, according to the private study by Pride Surveys.

A 1998 federal law established the survey as a measure of the effectiveness of White House drug control policy.

The survey found cigarette use increased slightly to 27 percent in the 2002-2003 school year from 26 percent the year before. About half of the students reported drinking alcohol in each year.

A companion survey on marijuana use found that students who smoke the drug at least once a month are more likely to think about suicide, carry guns to class and get into trouble at school or with police. They also are less likely to earn good grades and participate in school activities such as sports and clubs.

John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said these regular users of marijuana constitute the bulk of the nation's adolescent drug problem and that steps must be taken earlier to find them, as well as get them help.

"If our schools and parents were to utilize recognized, successful intervention techniques, including drug testing, we would be able to identify these youth and get them the counseling and treatment they need to turn away from drug use," Walters said in a statement.

While the overall increases were not dramatic, the survey's author, Thomas J. Gleaton, said an important question is how much teen drug use the nation is willing to accept.

"If one in four teens using drugs is acceptable, we have done well in controlling drugs over the past decade," Gleaton said at a news conference. "If a quarter of our students using drugs is unacceptable, then we simply must do more."

Alcohol and drug use remain the top problem facing young people, with marijuana the drug they use most often, the report said. Teenagers who drink, smoke and use drugs risk becoming addicted and put themselves in greater danger of dropping out of school, committing crime, attempting suicide or becoming involved in other dangerous behaviors, the report said.

Most substance abuse occurs after school hours — at nights and on weekends.

Last year's survey, covering the 2001-2002 school year, found substance abuse among sixth- to 12th-graders was at its lowest level since the mid-1990s. Survey officials gave credit to adults, saying they had been more active in keeping drugs, alcohol and cigarettes away from children.

For this year's survey on marijuana, Pride Surveys compared responses from more than 14,100 students who smoke marijuana at least once a month with answers from more than 84,500 students who have never used the drug. The findings:

— Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) started smoking marijuana before age 14.

— More than half (57 percent) are male.

— More than one-third (36 percent) smoke it daily.

— Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) smoke marijuana weekly.

Pride Surveys, based in Bowling Green, Ky., said schools, communities and states have been using its data since 1982 to gather information on student drug and alcohol abuse.

Information in the survey was based on responses from a sample of 109,919 students in 24 states and was conducted between August 2002 and June 2003. Nearly 460,000 students voluntarily completed anonymous questionnaires about their use of these substances and other behaviors.

State or regional breakdowns were not included in the survey.

On the Net: Pride Surveys: www.pridesurveys.com