Lies, Damn Lies and Eighth Graders
by Brian C. Bennett

When President Bush announced in his State of the Union address that drug use among young people has dropped by about 11 percent over the last two years, his statement drew a rousing round of applause from the assembled Congress. But there are a few things he didnít mention about the findings in the latest Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study from the University of Michigan, and some of them are whoppers. For example, there is apparently an epidemic of drug use going on below the 8th grade level. In fact, if the data are to be believed, there is a higher rate of smack heads in elementary school than there is in the population at large.

The data from the 2003 survey states that about 0.9 percent of 8th graders claimed to have used heroin in the past year. Meanwhile the complimentary National Survey on Drug use and Health (NSDUH), which tracks drug use in the population at large aged 12 and older, says the past year rate of heroin use is about 0.2 percent. Similarly, past month use of heroin by 8th graders is four times the national rate (0.4 versus 0.1 percent). If 8th graders are actually using heroin at over four times the national rate, in a few years time we can expect some serious problems among young people.

Even more disturbing is the fact that fully 44 percent of the 8th graders claiming theyíve ever used heroin had to have done so before they reached 8th grade. While some 0.9 percent claim to have used heroin in the year prior to the survey, a whopping 1.6 percent have claimed to do so at some point in their lives. Some simple arithmetic means that 0.7 percent of 8th graders claim to have used heroin before they ever reached 8th grade.

Of course, 8th graders donít just claim to use heroin, they also claim to use all of the other intoxicants that the MTF enquires about. Apparently, 45 percent of inhalant use, 39 percent of cocaine use, 35 percent of hallucinogen use, 36 percent of crack use and 27 percent of marijuana use reported by these youngsters is occurring before they reach 8th grade. Curiously enough, only 18 percent of the 8th graders who claim to have ever used alcohol did so before reaching the 8th grade. These trends of reported drug use are not just an anomaly, but are consistent among 8th graders all the way back to the initial survey of 8th grade drug use in 1991.

Arguably, this data is simply not true, and instead represents a manifestation of "bragging rights" amongst these youngsters. But why are so many of them (relatively speaking) willing to make such outrageous claims about their use of heroin, crack and cocaine? What possible advantage is there in claiming heroin use at a rate that is four times higher than among the population at large? What are these kids learning in their D.A.R.E. classes? While most 8th graders still donít claim to be drug users, one has to wonder what message these kids are hearing that makes heroin use something for them to brag about.

Written Feb 4, 2004

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