Fewer teens are abusing illegal drugs, though the rate of illicit drug use among all Americans has remained steady over the last three years, according to a government report released Thursday.
The number of youths ages 12 to 17 reporting that they had used illegal drugs -- a category that includes marijuana and cocaine but not alcohol or tobacco -- in the previous month decreased by about 370,000, from 11.6% to just under 10%, from 2002 to 2005, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed.
Marijuana use declined in that group from 8.2% to 6.8%, according to the report, which was released by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Twelve- to 17-year-olds are signaling a positive change in behavior that is broad, strong, continuing and affects both males and females,” John P. Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a news conference.
But as the rate of drug abuse among youths declined from 2002 to 2005, it increased during the same period among baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. Last year, 4.4% of people in their 50s reported using illegal drugs in the previous month. Three years earlier, the figure was 2.7%.
The aging of that generation is skewing the results because many baby boomers have a higher risk of dependency stemming from drug abuse in 1960s and ‘70s, said Dr. H. Westley Clark, the director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
The largest amount of illegal drug use was in young adults 18 to 25, who traditionally have had the highest rate of drug abuse. Last year, 20.1% reported recent drug use, a figure little changed from three years earlier.
Overall, the rate of illicit drug use remained basically unchanged for the general population 12 and older, hovering around 20 million people, or 8%.
At a news conference announcing the report, officials said the decline of illicit drug use among youths showed the positive effect of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign and other attempts to influence decisions about using drugs.
Now, Walters said, officials need to focus more on the abuse of prescription drugs, such as narcotic-based pain relievers, tranquilizers and stimulants. Most of the 6.4 million people who reported recently abusing prescription drugs in 2005 got them from friends or relatives, the report said.
To create the report, officials surveyed more than 68,000 people in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.