Losing Ground Against Drugs
A Report on Increasing Illicit Drug Use and National Drug Policy
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Utah, Chairman
Majority Staff Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the United States experienced dramatic and unprecedented reductions in casual drug use.
The number of Americans using illicit drugs plunged from 24.7 million in 1979 to 11.4 million in 1992. The so-called "casual" use of cocaine fell by 79 percent between 1985 and 1992, while monthly cocaine use fell 55 percent between 1988 and 1992 alone-from 2.9 million to 1.3 million users.
On the surface, little appears to have changed since 1992. For the nation as a whole, drug use remains relatively flat. The vast majority of Americans still do not use illegal drugs.
Unfortunately, this appearance is dangerously misleading. Drug use has in fact experienced a dramatic resurgence among our youth, a disturbing trend that could quickly return the United States to the epidemic of drug use that characterized the decade of the 1970s.
Recent surveys, described in detail in this report, provide overwhelming evidence of a sharp and growing increase in drug use among young people:
- The number of 12-17 year-olds using marijuana increased from 1.6 million in 1992 to 2.9 million in 1994. The category of "recent marijuana use" increased a staggering 200 percent among 14- 15 year-olds over the same period.
- Since 1992, there has been a 52 percent jump in the number of high-school seniors using drugs on a monthly basis, even as worrisome declines are noted in peer disapproval of drug use.
- One in three high school seniors now smokes marijuana.
- Young people are actually more likely to be aware of the health dangers of cigarettes than of the dangers of marijuana.
Nor have recent increases been confined to marijuana. At least three surveys note increased use of inhalants and other drugs such as cocaine and LSD.
Drug use by young people is alarming by any standard, but especially so since teen drug use is at the root of hard-core drug use by adults. According to surveys by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 12-17 year-olds who use marijuana are 85 times more likely to graduate to cocaine than those who abstain from marijuana. Fully 60 percent of adolescents who use marijuana before age 15 will later use cocaine. Conversely, those who reach age 21 without ever having used drugs almost never try them later in life.
Described another way, perhaps 820,000 of the new crop of youthful marijuana smokers will eventually try cocaine. Of these 820,000 who try cocaine, some 58,000 may end up as regular users and addicts.
The implications for public policy are clear. If such increases are allowed to continue for just two more years, America will be at risk of returning to the epidemic drug use of the 1970s. Should that happen, our ability to control health care costs, reform welfare, improve the academic performance of our school-age children, and de-fuse the projected "crime bomb" of youthful super-predator criminals, will all be seriously compromised.
With these thoughts in mind, I am pleased to present "Losing Ground Against Drugs: A Report on Increasing Illicit Drug Use and National Drug Policy" prepared at my direction by the majority staff of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. This report examines trends in drug use and the Clinton Administration's sometimes uneven response to them, including the Administration's controversial policy of targeting chronic, hardcore drug users. The report also reviews the state of trends in use and availability. And, finally, it evaluates the performance over the past three years of our nation's criminal justice and interdiction systems.
The report finds federal law enforcement under severe strain just as the technical sophistication of drug trafficking syndicates is reaching new heights. It finds that the Administration's supply reduction policy is in utter disarray, with a 53 percent drop in our ability to interdict and push back drug shipments in the transit zone. The report also finds increases in the purity of drugs and the number of drug-related emergency room admissions of hard-core users.
Federal drug policy is at a crossroads. Ineffectual leadership and failed federal policies have combined with ambiguous cultural messages to generate changing attitudes among our young people and sharp increases in youthful drug use.
The American people recognize these problems and are increasingly concerned: A Gallup poll released December 12,1995 shows that 94 percent of Americans view illegal drug use as either a "crisis" or a "very serious problem." Their concern, which I share, underscores the danger of compromising our struggle against the drug trade. I look forward to addressing the issues raised in this report in future hearings of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Orrin G. Hatch, Chairman
United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
December 19, 1995