Teens Confronting Drugs

LAST week, the focus was on violence on TV and in movies. This week, it's drug use among teens. As White House drug czar Lee Brown launched a campaign to combat marijuana use, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a study showing that adolescents in the US see drugs as the greatest problem they face - far outranking crime, social pressures, sex, and grades.

Three of the study's findings are particularly interesting: Two-thirds of the 12th graders surveyed said every adolescent is forced to choose whether or not to use illegal drugs; 90 percent of the 12- to 17-year-olds said most people who use illegal drugs start by age 17; and 81 percent said those who use marijuana are likely to start using cocaine and heroine.

The Luntz Research Company in Arlington, Va., which conducted the study, talked to 2,000 adults and 400 adolescents by telephone. The sampling is small, but the group claims the study is more accurate than others of its kind because the interviews with teens took place when parents weren't nearby. What comes through clearly from the findings, however, is the great need for parents to be even more aware of the pressures and choices their children are confronting.

If every child - white, black, Hispanic, urban, or suburban - is going to have to confront the issue of drug use, parents must help them make informed decisions. The teens said more antidrug programs in schools also would help. Clearly the education they get at home and in school needs to start at an even younger age.

The study found that though adolescents may know intellectually that marijuana can lead to the use of harder drugs, too many still think of it as a ''benign'' drug. That's why the White House campaign is timely. Lee Brown said his office would renew its attempt to fight initiatives to legalize marijuana. It is also sending videos and brochures to schools this week that detail the risks of the drug.

These steps are important and can help teens make better decisions. At the same time, we should recognize that many adolescents are, in fact, successfully dealing with the drug challenge. Many of the 12- to 17-year-olds surveyed said they didn't use drugs because they didn't want ''that kind of lifestyle.'' The researchers said the kids who are optimistic about their future are less at risk. The key, they say, and we agree, is for adults to talk to young people about their future - a future free from the destructive influence of drugs.

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