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Teen drug abuse shows sharp rise in New Jersey Survey of 2,693 students finds that 42.1% have smoked marijuana


TRENTON, N.J. - Drug use is sharply on the rise among New Jersey high school students.

After several years in which drugs appeared to be on the wane, the use of marijuana and other drugs has increased rapidly, according to a survey of high school students released recently by the Whitman administration.

The survey - of 2,693 students in 40 high schools around New Jersey - found that the percentage of students who had smoked marijuana at least once increased from 27 percent in 1992 to 42.1 percent three years later.

The use of inhalants, such as fumes from paint thinner and aerosol cans, also went up, from 12.6 percent to 22.5 percent, according to the survey.

L And the use of hallucinogens also increased, the study said.

"The results are clear: The drug problem in our state isn't going away, and, if anything, it's worse than many of us thought," Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said.

"After all we have done, it's hard not to be discouraged by the survey results. They are upsetting because of what they mean for our young people's future and because of the inevitable spike in crime that addiction causes."

Whitman said she would seek tougher penalties for drug dealers as well as legislation allowing the police to seek judicial restraining orders that would bar known drug dealers from frequenting open-air drug markets.

The governor also announced that she would require public schools to intensify their drug-education programs.

"I'm enlisting the help of our teachers and our parents in this war on drugs," Whitman said.

Her plan calls for no new hiring of police and, apart from $1 million for a public education campaign against drugs, little in the way of additional funding. But Whitman said she would seek to shift more police into the battle against drugs, a move she said would eventually pay huge dividends.

"The law-enforcement community is really coming to the conclusion that drugs are the core issue when it comes to other crimes," said Peter Verniero, New Jersey's attorney general, "so it makes sense to focus our resources on drugs and alcohol."

The New Jersey survey parallels the results of several recent national surveys on drug use by high school students.

One of the largest such surveys, released Sept. 25 by the National Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education, said about 30 percent of students in grades six through 12 reported using drugs within the last year, compared with 19 percent in the 1987-1988 school year.

Researchers speculate that a decline in the quality of public education and in the success of earlier initiatives against crack and other drugs, may lie at the bottom of the current national increase in drug use.

Dr. Gail Slap, director of adolescent medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and Children's Hospital, said high school students have not seen the consequences of a large-scale drug epidemic, as have earlier generations of teen-agers. If they had, the cost in death and ruined lives would serve as a deterrent, she said. She added that publicity programs aimed at discouraging drug use also appear to have dropped off.

"The first thing that we saw was that the student perception of the risks began to soften," Slap said.

Since 1980, the New Jersey high school survey has been conducted every three years by the attorney general's office. The current survey found that the percentage of students reporting having tried heroin increased from 3.5 percent to 4.7 percent and that the percentage of students using marijuana in the month before the survey rose from 13.3 percent to 22.3 percent.

The state also released the results of its first survey of 2,800 middle school students. It found that 57 percent of those students had experimented with alcohol, 40 percent had tried cigarettes, and 14 percent had smoked marijuana.

The survey, conducted by the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, also found that one in 12 middle school students had smoked marijuana and nearly a third of all middle school students had drunk alcohol in the month preceding the survey.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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