WASHINGTON – Maryland was one of the 10-best states in the nation in the battle against alcohol and drug abuse among people 12 and over in 1999, according to a survey released yesterday by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The findings also show that Maryland has the smallest percentage of binge drinkers for that same group, at 15.3 percent, and one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation.
“It’s very nice to hear that we’re ranked where we are and the hard work of people is paying off,” said Erin Artigiani, the coordinator of Maryland’s Drug Early Warning System, a state-supported initiative.
Artigiani cited current efforts to track the spread of the designer drug Ectasy as an example of Maryland’s success in combating alcohol and drug abuse.
But she and other state officials said it is not just marketing and public education that is making the difference in Maryland. They credit a combination of law enforcement, treatment and prevention as the reason for the state’s ranking.
Nationally, drug abuse remained level between 1997 and 1999, the years looked at by the survey.
But a steady drop in drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds during that period was offset by a rise in drug use in the next age bracket, those ages 18 to 25.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala attributed the nationwide spike in drug use in that age group to a failure to reach that generation with an anti-drug message. She emphasized the need to reach young people to prevent experimentation that could lead to lifelong habits.
This age group was a problem spot in Maryland, as well. In contrast to its overall low national ranking, the state was in the second-highest tier for illicit drug dependence among 18- to 25-year-olds.
Marylanders in that age group were also in the middle tier for marijuana use.
Artigiani said the rise in drugs among this age group could be attributed to the spread of “club” drugs to a more general population.
Still, state officials were heartened by the overall numbers for Maryland.
Cpl. Rob Moroney, a spokesman for Maryland State Police, said D.A.R.E. — the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program — could account for some of the difference. But he echoed Artigiani’s opinion of a united state effort.
“It’s a collection of Maryland government agencies working together to ensure Marylanders’ health and well-being is of good standing,” Moroney said.
The survey showed that Maryland finished in the lowest tier nationwide for smoking in all age groups. Maryland also did better than the national average for youth smoking, with 13.8 percent of the state’s 12- to 17-year-olds smoking compared to 15.9 percent nationally.
The 1999 National Household Survey is an expanded version of prior attempts by HHS to track drug, alcohol and cigarette patterns nationally. The new format surveyed about 70,000 people, and its revised structuring now allows for state-by-state age comparisons in addition to better geographic analysis.
Shalala said this new survey will “provide parents, governors and future administrators with a better more powerful tool.”