Cocaine use fell by 20 percent in 1987 among high school seniors, and other illicit drugs including marijuana continued a seven year decline among the same age group, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) annual report.
HHS Secretary Otis Bowen said that while many drugs have been on the decline, cocaine use had remained fairly stable for many years. This was the first significant sign of a downturn in its use.
Bowen continued by stating that there is a growing awareness among young people concerning drug abuse. “It is a shame that so many talented young people had to die before this message sank home” he said, citing college basketball player Len Bias and football player Don Rogers as examples of such casualties.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said President Ronald Reagan and his wife were pleased with the positive results of the report. Professionals in the anti-drug field have long understood the correlation between the use of a particular drug and its perceived health risk. This sharp decline confirms the growing grassroots understanding of the risk of hard drugs.
Lloyd Johnstone, director of the survey done annually by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said the relationship between the use of cocaine and the perceived threat showed that people make a more rational decision than is often believed about whether to use a particular drug. “Young people are not dumb” said Johnstone, who used PCP as another example of a drug that has declined in use by 75 percent after gaining a reputation as a “bad drug.”
While gratified with the results of the survey, Johnstone said, “We have only come part of the way down from a very high mountain.”
The 1987 survey included some 17,000 high school students in 130 schools; 10.3 percent admitted using cocaine at least once during the preceding 12 months as compared with 12.7 percent the previous year. In real terms this means that 20 percent fewer students tried cocaine in 1987 that in 1986.
The Michigan survey is a confidential survey used in high schools and is regarded as a sound measure of high school drug abuse. In its 13 year history the survey has recorded the rise and decline of drug use.