WASHINGTON -- Almost every American child -- regardless of race, family structure or financial background -- will be faced with the decision of whether to use illegal drugs before he or she graduates from high school, according to a survey released yesterday.
"Drugs are not a racial issue. No matter what your color, drugs are a problem for all backgrounds," said pollster Frank Luntz, president of Luntz Research Companies in Arlington, Va., which conducted the nationwide study for the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
While most children do not use drugs, they say it is the most prevalent problem facing them today, according to the survey of 2,000 adults and 400 youths, ages 12 to 17.
"American children are telling us they are drenched in drugs," said Joseph A. Califano, chairman and president of the Columbia University center.
The survey was conducted over a one-month period from May 18 to June 8. Interviews were done by phone and included a visit to a school. Mr. Luntz said this study is more accurate than those done in the past because interviews with teen-agers were done when parents weren't around, making it more likely for the youths to tell the truth.
Fifty-eight percent of the eleventh- and twelfth-graders surveyed said they had been offered marijuana. A majority also said that those who use marijuana are more likely to use hard drugs such as heroine or cocaine.
Mr. Luntz said 67 percent of adults and 76 percent of teen-agers believe that Hollywood movies, television, magazines and music encourage children to use illegal drugs. In recent weeks, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and President Clinton have criticized Hollywood for showing excessive violence in movies.
But Marie Dyak of the Entertainment Industry Council in Washington said that Hollywood does not "intentionally lead kids into drug use."
To help fight the drug problem, Mr. Califano said more anti-drug programs need to be established in schools. He said that the entertainment industry should stop glamourizing alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
In a statement yesterday, White House drug czar Lee P. Brown called the survey a useful tool in "underscoring the serious drug problem that we have in the United States."
He noted that the dangers of marijuana have been overlooked for too long.
Mr. Brown cited statistics compiled by the federal government's Drug Abuse Warning Network that detail how marijuana-related emergency-room cases have nearly doubled in the past five years and are now recorded nearly as often as cocaine cases. Most of the time, though, marijuana is not found alone, but with other substances such as alcohol, he said.
Mr. Brown assailed corporate leaders, none of whom he named specifically, for what he called their increasing habit of packaging products that children and teen-agers frequently buy -- such as gum or soda -- to look exactly like alcohol or tobacco products.
He displayed soft drink bottles designed to look like beer bottles, tea and fruit drinks sold in flask bottles, and gum sold in tins and pouches identical to those used for chewing tobacco.