Feeling Groovy

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They say they're not doing them, but teens still want drugs around. Substance abuse among high school students has mostly stabilized since its early to mid-1990s surge, but attitude changes are less encouraging: More teens want more drugs to be more available. Between 1978 and 1990, young Americans increasingly supported prohibiting all illegal drugs, but today an increasing number of teens say they favor legalization of marijuana and fewer criminal penalties for drug use. These findings were part of a report released in October 2001 by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The report, “Monitoring the Future,� is based on an ongoing study that has been conducted annually since 1975, and consists of two parts, divided by age group. The first part, focused on here, questions American junior high and high school students about their drug use, as well as about their attitudes toward such issues as the perceived danger of drugs, prohibition, availability, peer norms and parental involvement. The study is based on in-person interviews with 50,000 students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades and follow-up surveys by mail. In addition to alcohol and tobacco, 11 classes of drugs are reviewed in the 2000 report, which includes statistics for 2000 as well as 25-year trend data. According to the current report, drug use has been declining among eighth-graders since 1998, and then stabilizing among 10th- and 12th-graders since 1999.

One clear change is students' shifting attitudes toward the legalization of marijuana and other drugs. While the vast majority of high school seniors disapprove of legalizing the private use of heroin (71 percent), LSD (63 percent) and amphetamines and barbiturates (56 percent), only 39 percent feel that private use of marijuana should be legally prohibited. In fact, the percentage of high school seniors favoring prohibitive laws on the private use of marijuana fell dramatically from 1990 to 1997 (from 56 percent to 39 percent), where it remains. When it comes to usage of the drug in public places, a majority (72 percent) say they disapprove. At the same time, nearly one-third of seniors in 2000 believe marijuana use should be entirely legal (31 percent) and nearly a quarter (23 percent) say it should be treated as a minor violation, rather than a crime. Just 3 in 10 feel that marijuana use should be treated as a crime.

Also notable are the attitudes and beliefs surrounding the use of ecstasy (MDMA), a drug relatively new to the study. Given its growing popularity, young people's lack of concern about the risks surrounding ecstasy is surprisingly low. The percentage of 12th-graders who perceive any health risk in using the drug has risen only slightly to 38 percent from 34 percent in 1997, when the question was introduced. Even so, the vast majority of high school seniors disapprove of experimenting with ecstasy (82 percent) — about the same as those who disapprove of experimenting with LSD (81 percent) — though this was the lowest level of disapproval (e.g. 93 percent disapproved of heroin, the least sanctioned drug of all). Given escalating access, interest and usage of ecstasy among young people, could ecstasy follow marijuana as the next “gateway� drug?

The second part of “Monitoring the Future� focuses on college students and young adults. Both studies were funded by the National Institutes of Health and can be viewed at www.monitoringthefuture.org. For more information, contact Diane Swanbrow at (734) 647-4416.

Relative Sins

More high school seniors disapprove of smoking cigarettes than smoking pot occasionally. However, most also believe people should be prohibited by law from smoking pot in public.

Q: DO YOU DISAPPROVE OF PEOPLE (WHO ARE 18 AND OLDER) DOING EACH OF THE FOLLOWING?

CLASS OF
PERCENTAGE WHO ANSWERED “YES�: 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 1998 1999 2000
Smoking marijuana occasionally 55% 50% 66% 81% 67% 64% 63% 66%
Smoking marijuana regularly 72% 75% 86% 91% 82% 81% 79% 80%
Trying ecstasy once or twice n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 83% 82% 81%
Trying cocaine once or twice 81% 76% 79% 92% 90% 90% 89% 88%
Taking one or two drugs nearly every day 68% 69% 71% 78% 73% 69% 67% 70%
Smoking one or more packs of cigarettes per day 68% 71% 72% 73% 68% 69% 70% 70%

Q: DO YOU THINK THAT PEOPLE (WHO ARE 18 AND OLDER) SHOULD BE PROHIBITED BY LAW FROM DOING EACH OF THE FOLLOWIING?

CLASS OF
PERCENTAGE WHO ANSWERED “YES�: 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 1998 1999 2000
Smoking marijuana in private 33% 29% 45% 56% 44% 40% 39% 39%
Smoking marijuana in public places 63% 66% 78% 82% 73% 72% 72% 72%
Taking heroin in private 76% 70% 73% 76% 72% 74% 73% 71%
Taking heroin in public places 90% 84% 86% 87% 85% 86% 84% 84%
Getting drunk in private 14% 17% 20% 23% 22% 20% 21% 22%
Getting drunk in public places 56% 48% 53% 55% 55% 51% 53% 52%

Source: “Monitoring the Future 2000,� Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

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