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Going Up; Survey Shows 8th-graders' Drug Use on Rise

The Columbus Dispatch
April 16, 1993

It has long been obvious that Americans - and the American media, too - can only focus for so long on one crisis, real or imagined. For several years, the crisis was the pervasive use of illegal drugs in this country.

This crisis was not imagined; it was real. Young people, especially in the inner city, were getting hooked on crack at an early age. In upper-middle-class circles, cocaine was the drug of choice.

Addicts committing crimes to get money for drugs weighed down the criminal-justice system. Courts, jails and prisons were filled with drug criminals.

There was a War on Drugs at every government level. Although these ''wars'' were often oversold by politicians, the comprehensive assault on drugs began to pay off. There was statistical evidence that drug use was beginning to tail off.

For whatever reason, drugs stopped making the headlines. The Persian Gulf War attracted people's attention. Then there was the 1992 presidential election. Ross Perot found an issue that still holds sway - the burgeoning budget deficit and the ruinous national debt.

When Americans began focusing on budget and debt problems, drugs receded into the background. Now there is disturbing evidence that perhaps the use of drugs is increasing, reversing a trend, at least among younger teens. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that there are signs of an increase in the use of marijuana, cocaine and LSD among eighth-graders.

Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston, the chief investigator in the study, said, ''While the number of eighth-graders using drugs is not yet very large, the proportional changes are big, which means these young people may be in the vanguard of a reversal of previously improving conditions.''

What to do? ''The rise in drug use among eighth-grade students signals that President Clinton better move on the drug front fast,'' said Sue Rusche, director of National Families in Action, a drug-prevention organization based in Atlanta.

Rusche and others almost immediately used the results of the new study to call for more spending from Washington. As serious as the problem may be, running to Washington should not be the first answer, or even the second.

Young people should be taught that drugs are dangerous, something to stay away from. Young people should get this message at home and at school, and perhaps along with their religious training.

Home, school, church. None of these places should need a bigger federal handout to get the message across.


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