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Drug-Use Dramatization

Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post
Sue Rusche
National Families in Action
Atlanta, Georgia
October 31, 1992

Under the headline "Drug Survey Shows Rise in Use Among Students," you published a news story [Oct. 19] that says, "Among junior high school students drug use rose in all ... categories, including a 20 percent increase in LSD, 15 percent for cocaine and 7 percent for marijuana." Such a large increase in drug use among children so young (grades six through eight) is big news.

But is it true? National drug use surveys show no such increases. Your paper's source is PRIDE, the Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education. But PRIDE's statistics on the absolute rates of drug use, which your paper omits, tell the real story. Over the past year, hallucinogen use among junior high students rose from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent, or three-tenths of one percent. Similarly, cocaine use rose from 1.3 percent to 1.5 percent, or two-tenths of one percent, and marijuana use rose from 4.5 to 4.8 percent, or three-tenths of one percent.

Saying hallucinogen use rose 20 percent among kids is certainly more dramatic than saying it rose from 1.5 to 1.8 percent, but it is terribly misleading. And with seven out of 10 paragraphs devoted to allegations that the Clinton campaign wanted PRIDE's data and the White House didn't, one is tempted to think this is a story about politics, not drug abuse.

Stories like this trivialize the very real reductions in adolescent drug abuse that have occurred since 1978-79. With the exception of crack, drug use peaked among adolescents then and has steadily fallen ever since -- through both Democratic and Republican administrations.

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