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Ups and downs in the picture of teenage substance abuse

Of all the risks that adolescents take, substance abuse is probably numero uno on the parental worry list. So findings on what, when, where, and how much adolescents drink or use illicit drugs are always of interest. The news, as is often the case, is mixed.

On the bright side, the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports a modest decline in the percentage of respondents between 12 and 17 years old reporting illicit drug use-from 11.6% in 2002 to 10% in 2005. The percentage reporting using marijuana within the past months also decreased, minimally, from 8.6% to 8.2% over the same period. Said John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy: "Twelve- to 17-year-olds are signaling a positive change in behavior that is broad, strong, continuing, and affects both males and females."

On a less pleasant note, Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) reports that one third of teens and nearly one half of 17-year-olds attend parties at which parents are present while the youngsters are drinking, smoking marijuana, using cocaine or Ecstasy, or misusing prescription drugs. Joseph Califano, CASA's chairman and former US Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, said: "Too many parents fail to fulfill their responsibility to chaperone their kids' parties. They have no idea how drug and alcohol-infested their teens' world is. The denial, self-delusion, and lack of awareness of these parental palookas put their children at enormous risk."