Drug use has remained steady in grades eight through 12, according to the most recent data from the University of Michigan (UM) Institute for Social Research, which first began tracking drug-use trends among youth in 1975.
The newest data indicate that 54 percent of today's students have tried an illicit drug before finishing high school. The most widely used drug is marijuana, followed by ecstasy, steroids and heroin.
Since 1999, there has been a decrease in the use of inhalants, crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
UM researchers say there's a direct correlation between a drug's perceived level of risk and use of the drug. Though drugs such as marijuana have been widely used since the 1960s, the study shows there is a process of "generational forgetting"--in other words, young people's knowledge or perceived risk regarding a particular drug fades as one generation replaces another.
Students surveyed in 2000 show that personal disapproval of drug use has dropped since 1996. In addition, students reported that they do not think marijuana use is a particular risk to their well-being, but they do associate a high level of risk with cocaine.
"To some degree, prevention must occur drug by drug," says the study's final report, "because knowledge of the adverse consequences of one drug will not necessarily generalize to use of other drugs."
The study's findings support combating drug use by changing the beliefs about individual drugs. The benefits of particular drugs spread much faster than the dangers, specifically via the Internet and media, according to UM.
To access a copy of the Monitoring the Future study, go to the National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site, www.nida.nih.gov.