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WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (AFP) - Fewer US teenagers admitted to using illegal drugs in 2004 compared to the previous year, continuing a nearly decade-long drop in youth drug use, a study released Tuesday has found.
The research by the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that the percentage of eighth grade teenagers who acknowledged having used illegal drugs in the past year decreased by one-third since 1996, from 23.6 percent to 15.2 percent in 2004.
The annual survey of drug, alcohol and cigarette use among adolescents in the United States noted an overall 17 percent decrease in drug use since 2001.
US drug czar John Walters presented the results of the report to President George W. Bush at an Oval Office meeting Tuesday. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the figures represent a reduction of some 600,000 teen drug users.
The survey polled some 500,000 eighth, 10th and 12th graders about their drug use habits over the preceding month, as well as the previous 12 months. The 12th grade is the final year of high school in the United States.
The researchers determined that marijuana remains by far the most widely-used illicit drug, with 11.8 percent of eighth graders admitting to having used it at some point over the past year -- notably less than the 18.3 percent of eighth graders who reported using the drug in 1996.
The University of Michigan's Lloyd Johnston, who led the study, said the dramatic decline in marijuana use likely reflects the increasingly common perception by teens that marijuana is not a innocuous substance, but a potentially dangerous drug.
"Quite possibly, the media campaign aimed at marijuana use that has been undertaken by the White House Office of Drug Control Policy ... has been having its intended effect," Johnston said.
"I am not aware of any other social influence process that could explain these changes in how young people view marijuana."
The study also measured use by adolescents of other drugs, including amphetamines, methamphetamine, PCP, Vicodin and anabolic steroids.
Use of most of those drugs also generally fell, although less dramatically than the decline in marijuana use, the study found.
A separate report conducted by the University of Michigan found that teen cigarette smoking, which had peaked in the mid-1990's, was down by one-half among US eighth and 10th graders and by one-third among 12th graders.
"That's the good news, and it is good news indeed," said Johnston, who noted, however, that the rate of decline in the number of teenagers who smoke tobacco has slowed appreciably over the past two years.
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