Slow, steady drop in teen use of marijuana

Marijuana use among US teenagers has dropped for a third straight year, but a jump in the use of the "club drug" Ecstasy is raising new concerns.

Use of Ecstasy, a favorite at dance clubs and all-night raves, has doubled among teens since 1995. One in 10 teens has experimented with the drug, according to a report by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

The annual report, released yesterday, found the number of teens who have tried Ecstasy at least once rose from 7 percent to 10 percent in the past year.

In contrast, the percentage of teens who tried marijuana dropped from 41 percent last year to 40 percent this year. It was the third consecutive dropoff in teen marijuana use since 1997, when 44 percent of teens said they had used the drug at least once.

Many experts attribute the decline to teens' changing attitudes toward marijuana - and some credit antidrug ad campaigns with helping to discredit what many experts believe to be a "gateway" drug.

Indeed, the survey found that 54 percent of teens felt smoking pot would make them behave foolishly, up from 51 percent in 1997. Fewer believe most teens will try marijuana (36 percent now versus 41 percent in 1997). Just 21 percent said they had used marijuana in the past month, down from 24 percent in 1997.

"We appear to be turning a very important corner," said Richard Bonnette, the partnership's president. "But as we turn one corner, troubling developments are coming at us from other directions - specifically with Ecstasy."

The national ad campaign - started in July 1998 by the partnership and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy - appears to be getting through to about half of America's teens. Forty-nine percent reported seeing antidrug advertising on a daily basis, compared with 32 percent in 1998.

"This study confirms the trends we've seen over the last three years - a steady decline in the number of teens using drugs," said Barry McCaffrey of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "This is good news."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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