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Rural Teen Drug Use Soars

Illegal drug use among adolescents in small-town and rural America is reaching alarming proportions, according to a private study that urges the government to spend as much money fighting drugs in non-metropolitan areas as it does in Colombia and other foreign countries.

Eighth-graders in rural America are 104 percent likelier than those in urban centers to use amphetamines, including methamphetamines, and 50 percent likelier to use cocaine, according to the study. Eighth-graders in rural areas also are 83 percent likelier to use crack cocaine, and 34 percent likelier to smoke marijuana than eighth-graders in urban centers, the study said.

"We've long heard the warning, and we're trying to reach beyond the cities to the suburbs and rural areas to see the reach of drugs across America," Attorney General Janet Reno told the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Wednesday. "We have to look at a radius beyond the cities."

Boise, Idaho Mayor Brent Coles, co-chairman of the Conference of Mayors Drug Control Task Force, said the report was a call to arms.

"A coordinated effort among local, state and federal governments will be essential to reduce both demand and supply and finally turn the tide against drug abuse throughout America's big cities and small towns," he said.

The study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University was released Wednesday at the mayors' winter meeting. It was based primarily on 1999 data.

"Bluntly put, meth has come to Main Street, along with other drugs and with magnum force aimed at our children," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of the research group. "It's time for all Americans to recognize that drugs are not only an urban problem."

To help counter the trend, Califano called on the Clinton administration and Congress to adopt a $1.6 billion "emergency aid" package to fight drugs in rural America. On Tuesday, the president proposed a two-year, $1.6 billion aid plan for Colombia, in part to assist with anti-drug efforts there.

"We have got to recognize that drugs are everywhere, that every kid in this country is at risk whether they live in farming community or central city," Califano told CBS Radio News. "Drugs don't respect any boundaries, don't respect any color, don't respect any economics."

Clinton and Congress must match "dollar for dollar aid to Colombia with aid to the rural communities," Califano said.

Califano's group used five different sets of data, from public and private anti-drug organizations, to come up with their results, and also studied data from state and local law enforcement agencies. Each data set defined big cities and urban centers in different ways, but in general, they classified rural areas as those with populations of 50,000 or less.

Califano said availability is a factor but children everywhere are impacted by divorce, depression, isolation and the media.

The study' results are frightening regardless of the way towns are classified, said Susie Dugan, executive director of Parent Resources and Information on Drug Education Inc. in Omaha, Neb.

"If the study's results are true, I'm not surprised," said Dugan, whose group works in Omaha, a city of about 365,000 people, as well as outlying rural areas. "Our kids today are thinking it's no big deal to use drugs."

"I would support any increase in all aspects of drug prevention - not just interdiction, but prevention in rural areas too," she added. "We haven't spent adequate amounts in prevention."

The study also found that:

  • Eighth-graders in rural areas were 70 percent likelier to have gotten drunk, and 29 percent likelier to drink alcohol.
  • Eighth-graders were more than twice as likely to smoke cigarettes, and nearly five times likelier to use smokeless tobacco.
  • Among 10th-graders, use rates in rural areas exceeded those in large urban areas for every drug except marijuana and the methamphetamine known as ecstasy.
  • Among 12th-graders, use rates in rural America exceeded those in large urban areas for cocaine, crack, amphetamines, inhalants, alcohol, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
  • Adult drug use was about equal across communities of all sizes.

Genaro C. Armas