By Steven Carter and Bill Graves
of The Oregonian staff
Marijuana use among teen-agers has nearly doubled since 1992 - a startling new trend that is due in part to an increasing perception by youngsters that the drug can't hurt them, federal health officials said Tuesday.
The national figures mirror a 1994 study of 11,500 middle school and high school students in Oregon.
The Oregon survey showed that marijuana use (defined as usage within the past month) among eighth-graders jumped from 5.8 percent in 1992 to nearly 10 percent in 1994. Nearly 17 percent of 11th-graders used marijuana, up 21 percent from 1992. Marijuana use was greatest among students who thought that the drug wasn't dangerous.
The state survey, done for the Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, reported that alcohol was the most commonly used drug among Oregon teens. Nearly 30 percent of eighth-graders and 42 percent of 11th-graders reported drinking at least once in the last month. Cigarettes were the next most commonly used drug, followed by marijuana for the 11th-graders and inhalants, such as glue, for the eighth-graders.
The national marijuana numbers, although far below a high for usage in 1979, nevertheless indicate a reversal of the downward pattern of marijuana use that began in the early 1980s and continued to drop sharply until 1992.
"Anyone who thinks we've licked the drug problem in this country is living in a fantasy land," said
Please turn to
DRUGS, Page A14
than it was in the peak year of '79
Drugs:Use of marijuana lower
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, whose department conducted the survey.
In the new national survey, monthly marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds rose to 7.3 percent - or 1.3 million teens - in 1994, up from 4 percent in 1992 and 4.9 percent in 1993, according to the Household Survey on Drug Abuse, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In 1979 - when the use of illicit drugs was soaring in the United States - 16.8 percent of that age group smoked marijuana.
Several Oregon school officials said Tuesday that young people's attitudes toward marijuana appear to be changing. Many do not see it as a dangerous drug.
Stevie Newcomer, coordinator of a drug prevention program for Portland schools, said many young people see hypocrisy: "They can't understand why alcohol is legal and marijuana is not. They think of it as a naturally growing plant that's not terribly harmful."
Sid Birt, a counselor at Wilson High School in Southwest Portland, said he was unsure if marijuana use had risen or if teen-agers are more apt to admit using it than in the past. The stigma attached to using marijuana has diminished among some young people, he said.
Teens report peer interest
In interviews near Lincoln High School in Portland on Tuesday, most teen-agers said they were seeing more interest in marijuana among their peers. Marijuana is more fitting for social gatherings than most other drugs, said Rebecca Carpenter, 17, a junior at Lincoln.
"It is a social activity, and teens are at a loss for social activities right now," she said. "When you go to a concert or go dancing, the thing to do is smoke dope."
"Marijuana is pretty popular," agreed Athena Kantjas, 16, also a junior at Lincoln.
[name deleted by request], 18, who graduated from Wilson High School last spring, said he, too, sees marijuana smoking on the rise.
"It is easy to do, easy to grow, easy to get and easy to sell," he said.
"It is a social activity, and
teens are at a loss for
social activities right now.
"When you go to a concert
or go dancing, the thing to
do is smoke dope.
Lincoln High student
No harm seen in drug
The national survey reported that more teens than in the past believed that marijuana was not harmful.
The Oregon study found that when marijuana was viewed as benign, usage went up. For example, among eighth-graders who believed that using marijuana was harmful, only 3 percent identified themselves as users. On the other hand, among those who thought marijuana was not dangerous, 40 percent used the drug.
But drug counselors said students are fooling themselves if they believe marijuana is not harmful.
Joyce Liljeholm, a counselor at Lincoln, said she sees marijuana, which is far more potent than it was a generation ago, interfering with teen-agers' development.
Newcomer said students aware of alcohol's role in traffic accidents may discount the role of marijuana.
"What I always say to them is that we don't know how many accidents are caused by marijuana," Newcomer said.
The national survey also showed that underage drinking remains a problem, with 11 million drinkers between ages 12 and 20. Of these, 2 million are considered "heavy" drinkers.
The survey found that, in an average month in 1994:
To estimate the prevalence of the use of illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, HHS surveyed a nationally representative sample of 22,181 people last year. Drug use was defined as taking a drug sometime in the month before the survey.
The Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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