Md. teens say they're using less tobacco, alcohol, pot

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use declined among teen-agers in Maryland public schools last year from previous years, but more high school seniors were using cocaine, inhalants and other drugs, according to a state survey released yesterday.

State education and health officials applauded the findings, but said more needs to be done to reduce drug and alcohol use by adolescents, including getting parents more involved in their children's lives.

"It's very clear our work is not completed," state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said in an interview. "Yes, we're making inroads. But clearly, this is not the time to retreat from being very aggressive on these efforts."

The Maryland Adolescent Survey asked 40,000 students at public middle and high schools in December questions ranging from how often they drank beer to how permissive their parents were about marijuana use.

Cigarette use showed the greatest decline across all age groups compared with the 2001 survey. It was down nearly 6 percentage points among high school seniors, 19.8 percent of whom reported smoking, and down 4 percentage points among eighth-graders, 6.6 percent of whom said they smoke.

Officials said the decline in smoking among teen-agers may be tied to an increase in the cost of cigarettes and state and national anti-tobacco campaigns.

Underage alcohol use remained high among high school students, though less prevalent than in the past. More than a third of 10th-graders and 44.3 percent of 12th-graders reported alcohol use during the 30 days before December's survey. Both those figures were about eight percentage points lower than in 1996.

The survey also found that 42.7 percent of high school seniors admitted to binge-drinking in the past 12 months.

Among eighth-graders, 16.4 percent drank alcohol in the 30 days before the survey. That was down from 22.8 percent in 2001, and 27.1 percent in 1996.

The survey also found that Maryland public school teen-agers smoked, drank and used less marijuana than their peers nationwide. However, a higher percentage used the club drug Ecstasy than the national average.

The survey has been given on even-numbered years since 1992, except in 2000, when the survey was postponed until the next year.

Grasmick praised local school officials for helping to bring the numbers down, but said prevention needed to focus on high school seniors, who used crack, cocaine and other narcotics, and inhalants at higher levels than in 2001.

"Twelfth-grade students are much more into independence, experimentation and also, what's in vogue," Grasmick said.

The survey also showed that rates of substance use were significantly lower in Baltimore City than in suburban and rural counties. School officials said that the city's high dropout rate likely contributed to the results, since many drug users drop out of high school and would not have been reflected in the survey.

Maryland's first lady, Kendel Ehrlich, told the school board yesterday that no communities are immune from substance abuse. "It is rural counties and counties throughout the state," she said of the problem.

Ehrlich, a former prosecutor who has worked with troubled juveniles, said she is very concerned about teen-age substance abuse, despite the survey's findings that some abuse is declining. "When you have to include sixth-graders on a survey that involves alcohol, that should disturb all of us," she said.

Grasmick said she will use data from the survey to help school systems target their individual problems. She credited her department's campaign against Ecstasy, or MDMA, two years ago with the decline in use reported in December's survey.

In yesterday's editions, a table showing the levels of drug use reported by Maryland public school students contained incorrect data in several categories. The chart below shows the correct information. (SEE HARD COPY FOR CORRECTED CHART) The Sun regrets the errors.
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