Marijuana use among adolescents aged 12 to 17 is continuing to skyrocket because fewer youngsters see the drug as dangerous, the administration warned in a report Friday.
The number of youngsters in that age group who had used the drug in the month before they were interviewed jumped nearly a third between 1996 and 1997 - from 7.1 percent to 9.4 percent, according to an annual national survey on drug abuse by the Department of Health and Human Services.The 1997 number is nearly triple what it was in 1992 - 3.4 percent - the report showed.
HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said at a news conference here that adolescents increasingly think marijuana is not dangerous.
"These young people are wrong," Shalala said. "Marijuana is not safe."
The report said that youngsters' perception that taking marijuana is risky or harmful has dropped from 57 percent in 1996 to 54 percent in 1997.
The nation's overall use of illicit drugs - 6 percent of people 12 and older - did not rise in 1997, but Shalala said she was renewing the administration's "commitment to our long-term strategy to protect children from marijuana."
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the report, compiled from a survey of 25,000 households, underscores the need to help children 10 and under get past the age of 19 without drugs.
Mark Weber, a spokesman for the HHS' substance abuse and mental health services agency, which compiled the report, attributed much of the rise in teen drug abuse to the media, which he said makes drugs look attractive to young people.
Also, he said, there is "a new generation of youth coming through the pipeline that didn't have a clear anti-marijuana use campaign." Weber added that the parents of many of today's adolescents may have used marijuana themselves.