Students, drugs: for many it's no longer 'thing to do'
Atlanta — Between classes, a north Atlanta high school senior sat down with a visiting reporter to explain why he had quit using marijuana. "I just got tired of it," he said. "Times change." Then, shifting in his chair a bit, he added that it was no longer "the thing to do."
Although he could speak only for himself, his somewhat general answers reflect the first signs in years of a shift by young Americans away from some drugs.
It is a shift documented earlier this year in a national survey among high school seniors but still being analyzed to understand why some drugs appear to be loosing their appeal.
Monitor interviews with parents, students, and some of the nations foremost experts on drug abuse and enforcement attending a national conference here indicate several trends appear to be reducing the allure of drugs among youth:
* Youths are paying more attention to information on damaging effects of drugs.
* More parents are saying no to drug use by their children and setting rules to enforce their stand.
* Young people who do not use drugs are beginning to make their voices heard more --encouraging others not to start on drugs and users to quit.
"There's still a long way to go," says Robert DuPont, president of the American Council on Marijuana. The decline in use of marijuana and some other drugs is "a decline from a very high level."
And, as he points out, while the University of Michigan's latest survey of high school seniors shows a decline in use of marijuana, cigarettes and PCP (Angel Dust), use of amphetamines and methaqualones is increasing. Cocaine use is increasingly slightly, too, but at a much slower rate. Use of alcohol and heroin is leveling off, the survey shows.
Daily use of marijuana declined from 10.7 percent in 1978 to 10.3 percent in 1979 and 9.1 percent last year, according to the study.
Scientific facts about the potentially harmful effects of regular marijuana use are more widely known and accepted, Dr. DuPont says. He feels less is known about the dangers of amphetamines and methaqualone.
The number of high school seniors who now see a "great risk" in regular marijuana use has risen from 35 to 50 percent. But DuPont, former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says that means 50 percent still see no great risk.
There is still some dispute over marijuana's long-term effects. But, says Dr. Gabriel G. Nahas of Columbia University, "drug abuse is too important to leave to the scientists alone. I trust the judgment of parents as much as the scientists."
Parents have become a major force in getting such facts to their children and other parents, says Lee Dogoloff, former White House drug policy coordinator for President Carter.
"It's not accidental" that the decline in marijuana use has coincided with the increase in organized parental opposition to it, he says.
In the past several years, the number of parent groups formed to fight drug use among youth has grown from a handful to an estimated 1,000, says Marsha Schuchard, author of "Parents, Peers, and Pot." Mrs. Schuchard is also cofounder of PRIDE (Parent Resources Institute for Drug Education), based at Georgia State University here.
Last year, PRIDE director Thomas Gleaton Jr. helped lauch the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth, with headquarters in Naples, Fla.
Among parent group activities: picketing drug paraphenalia stores in the Atlanta area; getting such a store to close in Omaha, Neb., by convincing business leaders not to renew a lease; getting officials in Arcadia, Fla., to share marijuana fine revenues with parents fighting marijuana use.
Suchs parental efforts, says Dr. Gleaton, help counter society's encouragements to youth to use drugs.
But though so-called "peer pressure" may be overrated, according to Dr. DuPont, more youths are speaking out against drugs.
A small group from Woodlawn High School in Baton Rouge, La., and Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif., formed Youth for Drug-Free Alternatives at the PRIDE convention here. Their aim: "To change the norm" from use of drugs and alcohol, says Gunn senior Walt Hays. Right now, says a friend, "It's difficult to say, ' I don't do drugs.'"