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Teenagers, Parents Tolerate Illicit Drug Use, Poll Finds

Narcotics: Number of teens expecting to abuse such substances doubles since similar survey a year ago.

September 10, 1996|JACK NELSON | CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

WASHINGTON — The number of teenagers expecting to use illegal drugs in the future has doubled since last year, according to a national survey that also suggests young people and their parents are highly tolerant of drug use.

Even though both parents and children said that drugs are the most important problem facing teens today, 22% of the teenagers said it is likely they will use an illegal drug in the future. Eleven percent gave that response in a similar poll last year.

The survey and its conclusions, released Monday, were commissioned by the nonprofit National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The president and chairman of the center, Joseph A. Califano Jr., said the survey demonstrates that in America the term drug-free school is "an oxymoron."

"What is infuriating about the attitudes revealed in this survey is the resignation of so many parents and teens to the present mess," said Califano, who served as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Carter.

"It's time for parents of American teens to say, 'We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore,' " Califano said. "The more parents take responsibility, the less at risk of using drugs their children are."

The survey of 1,200 youths between the ages of 12 and 17 and 1,166 parents with children in the same age group was conducted in July and August by Luntz Research Cos., headed by Republican political consultant Frank Luntz. The margin of error for teens in the poll is plus or minus 2.8%; for the parents, it is plus or minus 2.9%.

The survey found a high level of tolerance by many teens, as well as their parents, toward the prevalence of drug dealing and usage.

By age 17, more than two-thirds of the teenagers said they could buy marijuana within a few hours or within a day. About one-third of 17-year-olds said they would report a drug dealer in their school. Almost 60% said they know someone who uses heroin, cocaine or LSD.

Among parents, nearly half said they expected that their own children would use illegal drugs. In fact, the "drug culture" includes many baby-boom parents who have experienced illegal drugs in their daily lives.

Forty-six percent of the parents said they know someone who uses illegal drugs; 32% have friends who use marijuana; 19% have witnessed drugs being sold in their communities. Forty-nine percent of the parents said they used marijuana in their youth; 21% said they used it regularly.

The findings provided fresh material for Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole's argument that drug use has increased under Bill Clinton's presidency because his administration has not continued the vigorous anti-drug efforts of previous GOP presidents. "Today, we got yet another report from the field showing the terrible casualty count from Bill Clinton's failure to wage a real war on drugs," Dole's campaign said in a statement.

In response, the Clinton campaign said that the Republican-controlled Congress repeatedly has failed to provide the level of funding the administration has sought for drug interdiction, enforcement and treatment programs--including money for the Drug Free Schools program. Dole is "more interested in partisan mudslinging than in working with the president to do something" about rising drug use, said Clinton-Gore campaign spokeswoman Lisa Davis.

The survey complements the results of a study released by the Department of Health and Human Services last month that showed drug use by teenagers has more than doubled in the last four years, with nearly 11% saying they use drugs each month.

The HHS survey found that, when asked, more than 2.4 million youths between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted using an illicit drug at least once during the previous month. The comparable figure in 1992 was about 1.1 million.

The HHS findings were described by Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, as "an explosion in drug use." And Republicans reacted swiftly, charging the Clinton administration with not attacking the nation's drug problems aggressively.

The Columbia substance abuse center's report concluded that parents who used marijuana and whose teenagers were aware of their history of drug involvement have children who are at much higher risk of drug use.

Emphasizing a statistical relationship among smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using marijuana and serious drug addiction, the center said the path to addiction typically begins with cigarettes and alcohol.

"No step on this path is inevitable, but this 'gateway' principle makes clear that the best way to end new addictions among the young is by drawing a line on the abstinence side of marijuana use, underage smoking and drinking," the report said.

The report stressed that as teens grow older, their proximity to drugs increases the more they regard drug usage as "no big deal."

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