America's Children
Using More Drugs Than Ever
By Joanne Morrison
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Drug abuse among America's children is increasing, fueled by a continued rise in marijuana use, according to a government survey released Friday. Illicit drug use among those from 12 to 17 years old rose to 11.4 percent in 1997 from 9 percent in 1996. During the same period, marijuana use in that age group increased to 9.4 percent from 7.1 percent, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. Officials surveyed 24,505 individuals. ``We have a serious marijuana problem among our young people,'' said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. ``This survey shows that our work in combating drug use must be focused on our young people.'' Shalala said the 1997 gain is part of a trend showing a ''persistent increase'' in marijuana use among youth from 1992 to 1997. ``Today we're not declaring defeat -- or giving up hope. But what we are declaring is the need for a renewed focus on marijuana,'' she said. More children, she said, are using marijuana because they don't believe it's dangerous, citing a shift in young people's perception of the dangers of marijuana that began in 1990. ``Our children are wrong. Marijuana is not safe,'' Shalala warned. ``Marijuana impairs learning. Marijuana impairs memory.'' Cigarette use among the nation's youth also increased in 1997. Among those age 12 to 13, cigarette use increased to 9.7 percent in 1997 from 7.3 percent. Alcohol use among children has remained relatively stable since 1992, according to the survey. However, drug use among youths was higher with those who were currently using cigarettes and alcohol. Overall, an estimated 13.9 million Americans, about 6.4 percent of the U.S. population 12 and older, were current users of illicit drugs last year, up slightly from the 13 million estimate in 1996. Of that total, an estimated 11.1 million Americans in 1997 were current marijuana users, representing 5.1 percent of the nation's population age 12 and older. While there was a slight gain in 1997 of the total number of drug users, the level remains about half its peak -- reached in 1979 -- when there were 25 million current users. Use of hallucinogens, inhalants, cocaine and heroin remained relatively flat, even among young people, according to the study. Shalala said the Clinton Administration would continue its push for adequate funding to prevent drug abuse in the nation. Last month, the president launched a five-year, $2 billion media campaign, including television ads designed to encourage parent-child discussions. U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey said the initial response from that effort has been overwhelming. ``Phone calls from parents and children seeking information and help from national and local hot lines have increased 121 percent,'' McCaffrey said. Rep. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, applauded the Administration's efforts to curb drug abuse, but expressed concerns that lawmakers would approve adequate funding for the effort. ``Unfortunately, while the President has requested more than $17 billion for drug-control efforts in the next fiscal year, many Republicans in Congress aren't joining in the national effort to fully eradicate drug use in America,'' the lawmaker said.