Twenty-eight percent of middle-school-student respondents reported that drugs are used, kept or sold at their schools, a 47 percent jump since 2002, according to the 10th annual teen survey by Columbia's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
The number of high schoolers saying drugs are at their schools rose 41 percent in the last three years, to 62 percent, the survey said.
Twelve- to 17-year-olds who report that there are drugs in their schools are three times likelier to try marijuana and twice as likely to drink alcohol than teens who say their schools are drug free, the survey showed.
"Availability is the mother of use," said Joseph Califano Jr., the center's president. "We really are putting an enormous number of 12- to 17-year-olds at great risk."
Most of the teens surveyed — 58 percent — said the legality of cigarettes has no effect on their decision to smoke or abstain, and 48 percent said the fact that marijuana is illegal doesn't affect whether they use or don't use the drug. Meanwhile, the survey found teens who viewed drugs as morally wrong were significantly less likely to try them, as were those who felt their parents would be "extremely upset" to discover drug use.
The report found that teens who confided in their parents were at much lower risk of drug abuse than teens who turn first to another adult.
"If this survey does anything, it really shouts to parents: You cannot outsource your responsibility to law enforcement or the schools," Califano said. "I think when parents feel as strongly about drugs in the schools as they do about asbestos in the schools, we'll start getting the drugs out of the schools."
The survey also found that teens who say they watch three or more R-rated movies in a typical month — about 43 percent — are seven times likelier to smoke cigarettes and six times likelier to try alcohol than teens who do not watch R-rated movies.
The correlation between R-rated movie watching and the risk of substance-abuse remains even after controlling for age, the report said. This was the first time the annual survey asked about R-rated movies.
"There's no question the correlation is very strong and it obviously wants further study," Califano said.
The survey was conducted by phone and involved 1,000 randomly selected teens aged 12 to 17 years old and 829 parents. Twenty-six percent of the teens said someone nearby could hear their answers. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the teens and plus or minus 3.4 percentage point for the parents.