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1996 | 08 | 21 | Articles | The Wall Street Journal | Health
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The Wall Street Journal
August 21, 1996
U.S. Studies Find Drug Use Is Rising Among Teenagers

The nation’s drug users are getting younger, according to reports released Tuesday.

Teenage drug use has more than doubled since 1992, the Department of Health and Human Services said. Nearly 11% of 12-year-olds to 17-year-olds used drugs on a monthly basis last year, and that number has climbed steadily from a low of 5.3% in 1992.

While teenage drug use has increased, usage by older Americans has declined in the same period, and overall levels of drug use have remained flat, the reports said. An estimated 12.8 million Americans used illegal drugs last year, the same rate as in 1992.

At campaign stops Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole immediately sought to capitalize on the rise in teenage drug use, depicting the increase as the result of a lax Democratic White House.

"This is nothing short of a national tragedy," Mr. Dole told the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention in Louisville, Ky. He vowed "to make the drug war priority No. 1 once again" and said he would host a conference of drug-abuse experts at the White House "to find solutions to put us back on the course to absolute victory."

In response, White House press secretary Michael McCurry insisted the drug war remains a "high priority" with the president. Asked if Mr. Clinton bears some responsibility for the increase in drug use, as some Republicans have asserted, Mr. McCurry said drug experts first noted the upward trend in 1991, before Mr. Clinton’s election. "He understands that there’s more that needs to be done, which is what he has consistently been doing in his time here," Mr. McCurry said.

Tuesday’s political back-and-forth was the latest in a series of Republican attacks on the White House for granting security clearances to staffers who had recently tested positive for illegal drugs. Republican leaders leaked summaries of the reports well in advance of their release, attempting to score some last minute points with voters before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago next week.

The move comes after some Republicans suggested an announcement earlier this month that juvenile crime had dropped for the first time in nearly a decade had been timed to steal the spotlight from their convention last week in San Diego.

Aside from the rise in drug use by teenagers, Tuesday’s reports also revealed that marijuana usage increased sharply while cocaine and heroin-usage remained the same. An estimated 9.8 million Americans used marijuana in 1995, comprising 77% of illicit drug users.

Additionally, there were nearly 532,000 drug-related hospital emergency room visits last year, nearly the same rate as in 1994. Cocaine-related cases made up 27% of all hospital visits in 1995, while another 14% were heroin-related. Over half of the visits were made by people who had overdosed, the reports said.