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Student drug abuse, alcohol use on the rise They're starting younger and using more often, statewide survey shows


School signs declare drug-free and smoke-free zones, but a survey of students released yesterday shows more of them are drinking, smoking, injecting and inhaling than they were in 1992.

And they're starting at a younger age. Eighth-graders showed the greatest increase.

Calling the results "disturbing," state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick emphasized the need for parent, community and business involvement in providing guidance, models for behavior and positive activities for students. She said national surveys show the same trends in other states.

With Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend at her side, Dr. Grasmick pulled statistics from the survey:

* 1.6 percent of eighth-graders -- up from .5 percent in 1992 -- reported using a needle during the past 30 days to inject a drug such as heroin or cocaine. In real numbers, Dr. Grasmick said, that means 900 13- to 14-year-olds using needles.

* Marijuana use by eighth-graders (those who reported using it in the previous 30 days) went from 3.5 percent to 13 percent.

* Alcohol is the most commonly used substance by Maryland teens. Cigarettes are second, marijuana is third and inhalants are fourth.

* One in 10 eighth-graders, and one in five 10th-graders smoke half a pack of cigarettes a day.

"We have embraced the notion of smoke-free schools, but we are far from the goals of smoke-free students," Dr. Grasmick said.

The survey was administered last year to a sample of Maryland students -- 18,205 of them -- in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades. Results from Prince George's County are not included because of a low response rate; officials said the exclusion results in "insignificant" changes in statewide totals.

In addition to statewide totals, each county will get a breakdown of its own patterns of adolescent drug use. The drugs of choice vary among the counties, but in all of them, drug use is up, said Ricka Markowitz, an expert with the state Department of Education.

Dr. Grasmick and Ms. Townsend said federal efforts to cut money for drug-prevention programs couldn't come at a worse time.

The budget proposed by the House of Representatives would cut 55 percent of the $5.1 million Maryland allocation.

"Some people would say we should slash funding because it doesn't make a difference," Dr. Grasmick said. "This survey and the national survey underscore the need to do more, not less."

The survey is modeled after one done annually for 20 years by the University of Michigan.

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