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From Pot to the Medicine Cabinet 

Teen stats show preference for pharmaceuticals

Twenty years after the first Reagan-era public service announcement that warned young people to "just say no," Mecklenburg County's kids just don't seem as interested in street drugs as they were a decade ago. Now, it appears, they're high on pharmaceuticals.

A survey of 3,400 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students by Substance Abuse Prevention Services of the Carolinas showed drug, alcohol and tobacco use declining by a third to three-quarters over the last decade, depending on the substance.

Only 17 percent of today's students have tried marijuana, compared to 31 percent in 1995, the survey found. Cocaine use fell from four to one percent, and crack, it seems, is out of style.

When prescription drug use wasn't counted, only 27 percent of kids said they had experimented with drugs. When prescription drugs were counted, however, the number jumped to 43 percent.

Only alcohol was consistently more popular than drugs that can be obtained from a pharmacy. In a head-to-head contest between pharmaceuticals and marijuana, it was pretty much a tie overall, although kids in the higher grades preferred a pharmaceutical high while younger teenagers lit up for marijuana.

When the county's kids do smoke and drink, they start young. A third of the regular smokers and drinkers started before age 12. About half of those who used marijuana regularly started before 14.

In middle school, more African-American kids went on drinking binges and smoked cigarettes and marijuana than white kids. By high school, though, the trend had reversed and white kids were smoking, drinking and doing drugs more than black kids were, although African-Americans still edged out whites in the marijuana-use category.

In middle school, the girls drank and did drugs more than the boys, but by high school, that trend, too, had reversed itself.

Meanwhile, use of drug-store drugs is gaining in popularity. Depressants, tranquilizers and sleeping pills beat out old street favorites from the Reagan era such as heroin, cocaine or speed, and even more recent "rave" drugs like Ecstasy, the survey showed. Today's kids prefer Valium and Xanax.

All of this is pretty ironic when you consider that the pharmaceutical industry got its big boost during the Reagan era. So while Congress spent billions battling drug use in the 1980s, it also was spending billions developing the next generation of pharmaceutical drugs that kids are ordering off the Internet today. Your tax dollars at work.

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