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Teen Attitudes Towards Drug Improving

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After years of steady increases, teen drug use is leveling off and attitudes about drugs are improving, according to a new study from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA).

The survey found that 40 percent of teens strongly agree that “really cool” teens don't use drugs, compared to 35 percent who agreed with the statement last year. Among 13- to 15-year-olds, only 8 percent said they believe marijuana users are popular, a decline from 13 in 1998 and 17 percent in 1997.

Furthermore, the study found that fewer teens believe that rock and rap stars make drug use look tempting; 42 percent of those surveyed agreed that music idols glamorize drugs, down from 48 percent in 1998 and 51 percent in 1997. Also, fewer teens believe music makes marijuana seem cool, or that television and movies glamorize drug use.

The new national study — the 1999 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) — was based on a survey of 6,529 teens between the ages of 13 to 18 living throughout the United States.

“The tide appears to be turning,” said James E. Burke, chairman of PDFA. “Across the board, in numerous statistical measures, teenagers are disassociating drugs from critically important badges of teen identity. From a consumer-marketing standpoint, when this type of peer norm begins to develop, it's extremely encouraging. But it's too early to declare a major turn-around in drug-related attitudes and drug use.”

The study also found that fewer teens believe that “most people will try marijuana sometimes” — support for this statement declined to 35 percent in 1999, from 40 percent in 1998 and 41 percent in 1997. Just 11 percent of teens today believe it's difficult to reject a friend's invitation to try marijuana, down from last year's 14 percent. In addition, the percentage of teens saying they tried to talk a friend out of using drugs increased to 41 percent in 1999, up from 38 percent in 1998.

“A major element of this growing social disapproval of drugs among teens seems to stem from a change in how the culture is disassociating 'coolness' from drug use,” said Barbara Delaney, senior vice president and director of research for the PDFA. “Cultural icons — especially musicians and actors — are less likely to be seen as purveyors of marijuana or drug 'coolness.' In kids' minds, marijuana is less and less associated with popularity, especially in peer circles.”

The report found that drug use among teens leveled off between 1998 and 1999. Marijuana use, which increased more than any other drug in the 1990s, declined in trial use, past-year use, and past-month use among teens.

In addition, trials use of inhalants decreased to 19 percent this year, compared to 22 and 23 percent in 1998 and 1997. Past-year use declined to 11 percent, down from 14 and 15 percent during the previous two years, while past-month use declined to 6 percent, down from 8 percent in 1998 and 1997.

Use of methamphetamine, which is a popular drug in the western and southwest regions of the U.S., also declined among teens. Trial use of the drug was 10 percent this year, down from 12 percent in 1998 and 1997. Use of the drug in the past year dropped to 7 percent this year, down from 9 percent during the same period, while past-month use dropped to 3 percent, down from 5 percent in 1998 and 1997.

Cocaine Use Wanes

For the first time since 1993, the survey found a decline in cocaine and crack use among teenagers. Past year use of cocaine declined to 6 percent in 1999 from 8 percent in 1998 and 7 percent in 1997, while past month use of cocaine declined to 3 percent this year, down from 5 and 4 percent in 1998 and 1997. Past-year use of crack also dropped to 4 percent this year after being at 5 percent in 1998. In addition, past-month use of crack dropped to 2 percent, down from 3 percent over the previous two years.

Also declining was trial use of LSD, from 12 percent in the previous two years to 10 percent this year. Remaining steady at 7 percent, however, was trial use of Ecstasy. In addition, experimentation with heroin among teens remained stable at 3 percent.

“The chart that tracks teen drug use shows a line steadily increasing since 1991. That line leveled off last year and is now showing a marginal decline,” said Burke. “We are still at the top of this dangerous, disturbing mountain … We've got a long, long way to go to reverse the trends that defined the 90s.”

Burke added that the new public-private teen anti-drug media campaign administered by the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy also appears to be making inroads. According to the survey, the percentage of all teens seeing or hearing an anti-drug advertisement every day or more jumped from 32 percent in 1998 to 45 percent in 1999.

“Advertising alone will not solve the drug problem,” Burke said. “But advertising can help change attitudes — and changing attitudes is what's key to reducing demand for drugs. We have a unique opportunity and challenge before us to translate attitudinal changes into long-lasting changes in behavior. This will be more difficult, requiring constant and heavy exposure of the ads over time.”

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