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Survey finds rise in abuse of prescribed drugs for pain

WASHINGTON -- Fewer American youths are using marijuana, LSD, and ecstasy but more are abusing prescription drugs, according to a government report released yesterday.

The 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health also found that youths and young adults are more aware of the risks of using pot once a month or more frequently.

The annual study found a 5 percent decline in the number of 12- to 17-year-olds who have used pot. Among 12- and 13-year-olds, current marijuana smokers -- those who said they used it within a month of the survey -- declined nearly 30 percent.

"It is encouraging news that more American youths are getting the message that drugs are dangerous, including marijuana," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said.

For youths age 12 to 17, reported use of ecstasy and LSD in the year leading up to the survey dropped significantly -- by 41 percent for ecstasy and 54 percent for LSD. The study, which also included adults, found that overall nearly 20 million people age 12 and over use illegal drugs.

The survey noted a 20 percent decline between 2002 and 2003 in the number of youths who smoked marijuana either daily or at least 20 days each month, according to the findings released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Survey results on alcohol use suggested that the numbers of binge and heavy drinkers had not changed between 2002 and 2003. About 54 million Americans ages 12 and older said they binged on alcohol at least once in the 30 days before being surveyed. These people reported having five or more drinks on five or more occasions in the past month.

People 18 to 25 showed the highest prevalence of binge and heavy drinking.

But while the findings on drinking showed little change, the study found that more respondents had tried prescription pain relievers who did not need them for medical reasons. The most striking increase was a 15 percent rise in prescription drug abuse by young adults. In the broader population of 12 and over, 5 percent more than in the previous survey took those drugs recreationally.

The study found that young people who were exposed to antidrug messages took notice -- with rates of current marijuana use 25 percent lower than those who did not get those messages.

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