More Adults, Fewer Teens Using Drugs
> 9/8/2006 2:08:12 PM

The overall use and abuse of illicit drugs in America remainedrelatively steady last year, but surveys noted significant declines inuse among those 12-17 and increases among those 50-59. The 2006 press releasefrom the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrationlisted a surprising 63% increase in the number of adults over 50 whoreported using illicit drugs at least once in the preceding month. Someattribute this statistic to the increasing number of baby boomers whonow occupy that age group. Recreational drug use became a largelyaccepted rite of young adulthood for many of these Americans, and alarge number maintain at least some of their earlier habits.

Among 12-17-year olds,reported instances of drug use in the previous month continued agradual decline from 11.6% in 2002 to just under 10% last year. Thoughlevels of usage for drugs like cocaine and heroin remained mostlyunchanged, use of marijuana, the most popular illicit substance, wentfrom 8.2% to 6.8% over the same period. Advocates argued thatadvertising campaigns and anti-drug progams in schools were at leastpartially responsible for the shift, noting that most baby boomers didnot encounter the same sort of materials in their youth. The news wasnot all good for American teens, however, as binge drinking remained awidespread problem. The number of those surveyed who admitted to atleast one binge drinking incident was 18.8%, or nearly twice the numberwho used illicit substances. Most parents and educators, thoughconcerned about the possibility of alcohol abuse, do not treat it asseriously as illegal drug use, leading many teens to feel less anxiousabout drinking. Yet, with such a large percentage of underage kidsdrinking to excess, this issue clearly deserves more urgent attention, especially as we learn more about the damage alcohol abuse can inflict on the developing brain. 

In other, less encouraging news, 20.1% of Americans age 18-25 usedillicit drugs at least once in the month before being surveyed. Thatnumber that hasn't changed significantly in the last three years. Thisage group also reported slight increases in the use of cocaine andespecially prescription medications, which some name as the newestenemy in the war on drugs. John P. Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy,suggested devoting more time and resources to this growing phenomenon.Particularly disturbing is the fact that a majority of those who abusepharmaceuticals acquire them from friends and family. While the recentdecline in drug use among teens is certainly a positive development(and anti-drug programs seem to be contributing somewhat to thistrend), nearly ten percent of the population still suffers from someform of substance abuse or dependence. They deserve access to the helpof professionals, friends and family members, regardless of theircircumstances or the nature of their addictions.

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