Half of all teen-agers attend a school at which drugs are sold, used, or kept, according to a national organization that fights drug abuse.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a report in September detailing drug use and availability among teens.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, by the time students complete high school, 47 percent have smoked marijuana, 24 percent have used another illicit drug, and 81 percent have drunk alcohol. They also estimate that 70 percent have smoked cigarettes.

The Columbia group’s survey of 1,000 students found that half of all teen-agers said their school was not drug-free, meaning that students keep, use, or sell drugs on school grounds. Sixty percent of high school students said there were drugs on campus; 30 percent of middle school students said the same.

The random telephone survey of students age 12-17 was conducted Oct. 20-Nov. 5, 2000 by QEV Analytics. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

The percentage of teen-agers who say there are drugs on campus has actually dropped since 1998, said Joseph Califano, a former secretary of health, education, and welfare, who heads the group. But Califano said the high number of schools in which drugs are present is still unacceptable.

“When parents start to feel as strongly about drugs in schools as they do about asbestos in schools, we’ll take a giant step forward,” he said.

Califano said national efforts to keep schools drug-free have failed, primarily because drug-prevention lessons don’t address the factors that lead students to experiment with drugs. Anti-drug programs abound, he said, but many aren’t based on sound science and few are compatible with others.

Califano said zero-tolerance policies, by which students caught with drugs are expelled or suspended from school, are a double-edged sword, since they send a clear no-use message but can also encourage parents and friends of drug users to keep quiet out of fear the user will be punished severely.

Since 1996, the group’s annual survey has consistently shown that only about one-third of 17-year-olds would report a drug user or seller at school.

He said more money should be spent on school counselors, teacher training, and treatment for drug-using students, and that parents should be encouraged to play a more active role in their children’s schools.

http://www.casacolumbia.org