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Teen drug use rises in county

June 08, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

An across-the-board increase in reported drug use among Washington County high school seniors is disturbing but not surprising, say local anti-drug activists.

Responses to the Maryland Adolescent Survey, released late last month, mirror a nationwide increase in drug use in general, said Barbara Orlando, who works with a regional organization aimed at reversing the trend.

They're also consistent with what teens have told her about drug use among their peers, said Orlando, community development director for the Trans Potomac Prevention Coalition.

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The survey, conducted every two years through the Maryland State Department of Education, shows a generally higher rate of experimentation and recent use among local high school seniors.

More than half of surveyed seniors said they have tried marijuana - up from a little more than one in three in 1994 - with more than a quarter reporting using the drug within the past month.

Almost a quarter said they have tried LSD, with just over 10 percent saying they'd used it within the past month.

Just under 16 percent reported trying LSD in 1994.

Nearly one in 10 said they have used crack cocaine.

One in 20 said they have used heroin.

Almost half say they have drunk alcohol within the past month, with more than a third saying they had enough to get drunk.

Teens say marijuana is cheap and easy to get, said Orlando, who wonders if the growing acceptance of drug use among teenagers is related to the resurgence of 1960s-style clothing.

Many music groups are promoting use of the drug, said Orlando, who also has found a disturbing amount of pro-marijuana propaganda on the Internet.

In addition to arguments for legalization, Orlando said she found surprising recipes for cooking with marijuana - like turkey stuffing - to get a more intense high.

The trend toward increased marijuana use is especially alarming because teens tell her it's an "entrance drug" for harder drugs, like LSD, Orlando said.

It's not just the "bad kids" who are using drugs, said North Hagerstown High School junior Staci Gigeous, who said she's aware of student "role models" who smoke cigarettes, drink and smoke marijuana.

Marijuana use has become more acceptable, said Gigeous, an active member of the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter, formerly Students Against Drunk Driving.

It's now "matter-of-fact" to hear students talking about "smoking up," even before school, she said.

Judging by responses among sixth-graders, education seems to be working with younger students, Orlando said.

In general, sixth-graders reported significantly lower rates of drug use than those surveyed in 1994.

The number of sixth-graders who said they had tried alcohol dropped from about one in five in 1994 to about one in 10.

The number who reported trying cigarettes also dropped, from nearly one in five to just over one in 10.

One in 50 reported trying a drug other than alcohol or cigarettes, down from just over one in 10.

Only LSD saw an increase, with just under one in 100 sixth-graders saying they'd tried the drug.

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