WASHINGTON - Some moms and dads might want to take a lesson from their kids: Just say no.
The government reported Thursday that 4.4 percent of baby boomers ages 50 to 59 indicated that they had used illicit drugs in the past month. It marks the third consecutive yearly increase recorded for that age group by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Meanwhile, illicit drug use among young teens went down for the third consecutive year — from 11.6 percent in 2002 to 9.9 percent in 2005.
"Rarely have we seen a story like this where this is such an obvious contrast as one generation goes off stage right, and entering stage left is a generation that learned a lesson somehow and they're doing something very different," said David Murray, special assistant to the director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The annual survey on drug use and health involves interviews of about 67,500 people. It provides an important snapshot of how many Americans drink, smoke and use drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
Overall, drug use remained relatively unchanged among Americans age 12 and older in 2005. About 19.7 million Americans reported they had used an illicit drug in the past month, which represented a rise from 7.9 percent to 8.1 percent. The increase was not only due to the boomers, but an increase was also seen among those 18-25, the age category that always ranks highest when it comes to illicit drug use.
Among the 18-25 group, drug use rose from 19.4 percent to 20.1 percent. Federal officials commenting on the report emphasized the drop in use among younger teens without citing the increase in the next older age group.
"This is a culture change and welcome news for our nation's well-being," said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
But groups seeking the legalization of marijuana said the results show that the United States is spending billions and incarcerating millions, yet drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available.
"The government's current approach to drugs, with its drug free rhetoric and over-reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs billions more each year yet delivers less and less," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Murray said the peak of drug use among youth in the United States occurred in the late 1970s.
"And they brought it with them like baggage when they hit 50 and 60," Murray said.
Drug use by baby boomers increased from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 4.4 percent last year. Marijuana was by far their drug of choice, Murray said.
That's true overall. There were 14.6 million people who reported using marijuana in the past month, about 2.4 million cocaine users and 6.4 million people who used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers or sedatives. In 60 percent of those cases, the drugs came from a relative or friend for free. Only 4.3 percent reported buying the drug from a drug dealer or other stranger.
While drug use went up slightly in '05, so did alcohol use. Slightly more than half of Americans age 12 and older reported being current drinkers of alcohol. That translates to 126 million people, up from 121 million people the year before.
Officials noted that alcohol use among those 12-17 did decline from 17.6 percent to 16.5 percent.
The percentage of Americans who acknowledged driving drunk at least once in the past year also dropped slightly in 2005 — from 13.5 percent to 13 percent.
Meanwhile, tobacco use held steady at about 29.4 percent, even though among youths 12-17, tobacco use did drop from 14.4 percent to 13.1 percent.