In 1996, there were approximately twenty-two million teenagers in the United States, and according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 13.3 percent of them used illicit drugs regularly. A study conducted by the National Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE) puts the number of high school seniors who use illicit drugs on a weekly basis as high as 20 percent. The survey found that since 1992, teenage drug use has increased 105 percent, with a 33 percent jump between 1994 and 1995 alone. By the year 2000, if current rates continue, drug use among teens will match peak levels reached in 1979.
American teenagers abuse drugs more than teens in any other country in the world, and the federal government is currently under fire for allowing the problem to get so out of control. The strict antidrug laws adopted at the start of the “war on drugs” focused on cutting the supply of illegal drugs and called for harsher penalties for dealers and users. The results looked promising for a little while and the country thought it was winning the war. Media coverage of drugs dropped drastically—from 518 stories on the three major networks in 1989 to only 45 stories in 1992— and antidrug funding from corporations dropped 30 percent. Lee Brown, the former federal drug policy director, explains that drug abuse “was on the radar screen up until the [Persian] Gulf War. Then it never surfaced as an issue again.” That is, until recently, when the number of teenage drug users soared and the availability of drugs on the streets hit an all-time high. President Clinton responded to the recent statistics by promising to make the teen drug issue a priority of his second term in office. Early in 1996 he had already named retired army general Barry McCaffrey the official “drug czar” to head the Office of Drug Control and had set up sanctions against the countries known for smuggling drugs into the United States. Even though the number of people arrested for drug-law violations doubled from 1984 to 1994, the antidrug measures have not halted the drug trade.
Donna E. Shalala, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), describes drug, alcohol, and tobacco use by teenagers as “a poison in the well of our national future.” The HHS is attempting to set up a comprehensive strategy to “give our young people the clear and unambiguous message that drugs are illegal, dangerous and wrong.” The department has enlisted the aid of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to help parents teach their children about the dangers of drugs; petitioned Weekly Reader and Scholastic magazines to get new antidrug materials into the classrooms; and asked the entertainment industry to stop glamorizing drug use. Can society really get the message of the dangers of drugs across to the millions of teenagers who abuse their bodies, destroy their families, and bring unrest or violence to their communities?
Did this raise a question for you?