Drug use up for boomers, down for young teens


By KEVIN FREKING
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- Overall drug use increased in the United States just a smidgen in 2005, but another drop among young teens had federal drug policy officials beaming on Tuesday.

Illicit drug use among young teens went down for the third consecutive year _ from 11.6 percent in 2002 to 9.9 percent in 2005.

"This is a culture change and welcome news for our nation's well-being," said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

But the good news did not extend to all age groups.

The government reported Thursday that 4.4 percent of baby boomers ages 50 to 59 indicated that they had used illicit drugs in the past month. It marks the third consecutive yearly increase recorded for that age group by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

"Rarely have we seen a story like this where this is such an obvious contrast as one generation goes off stage right, and entering stage left is a generation that learned a lesson somehow and they're doing something very different," said David Murray, special assistant to the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The annual survey on drug use and health involves interviews of about 67,500 people. It provides an important snapshot of how many Americans drink, smoke and use drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Overall, drug use remained relatively unchanged among Americans age 12 and older in 2005. About 19.7 million Americans reported they had used an illicit drug in the past month, which represented a rise from 7.9 percent to 8.1 percent. The increase was not only due to the boomers; an increase was also seen among those 18-25, the age category that always ranks highest when it comes to illicit drug use.

Among the 18-25 group, drug use rose from 19.4 percent to 20.1 percent. Federal officials said that increase was not statistically significant.

But groups seeking the legalization of marijuana said the results show that the United States is spending billions and incarcerating millions, yet drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available.

"The government's current approach to drugs, with its drug free rhetoric and over-reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs billions more each year yet delivers less and less," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Murray said the peak of drug use among youth in the United States occurred in the late 1970s.

"And they brought it with them like baggage when they hit 50 and 60," Murray said.

But they don't have great influence on younger Americans, officials said. Walters said that teens are more influenced by peers. That's why the trend among young teens is so important.

"The way this problem starts is not through some stranger," said Walters. "It's a boyfriend or a girlfriend, a brother or sister, or the kid next door who says 'hey, lets have some drugs everyone does it.'"

Walters also noted that more than 91 percent of young teens said their parents would "strongly disapprove" of their using drugs, and those who felt that way were less likely to use drugs than children who consider their parents more ambivalent on the issue.

Meanwhile, drug use by baby boomers increased from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 4.4 percent last year. Marijuana was by far their drug of choice, Murray said.

That's true overall. There were 14.6 million people who reported using marijuana in the past month, about 2.4 million cocaine users and 6.4 million people who used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers or sedatives.

In 60 percent of the cases involving prescriptions, the drugs came from a relative or friend for free. Only 4.3 percent reported buying the drugs from a dealer or stranger.

While drug use went up slightly in '05, so did alcohol use. Slightly more than half of Americans age 12 and older reported being current drinkers of alcohol.

Officials noted that alcohol use among those 12-17 did decline from 17.6 percent to 16.5 percent.

However, the survey showed that heavy drinking went up among those 18-22. College students led the way in that category. Heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking at least five times in the past month. Nearly one in five college students report heavy alcohol use, but the numbers dropped to 13 percent for those not enrolled in college full time.

Meanwhile, tobacco use held steady at about 29.4 percent, even though among youths 12-17, tobacco use did drop from 14.4 percent to 13.1 percent.

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On the Net:

Office of National Drug Control Policy: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/

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