WASHINGTON - Illicit drug use among teen-agers held steady in 2000 for the fourth straight year, and cigarette smoking declined significantly, the government reported Thursday.
The annual Monitoring the Future survey, a benchmark for teen drug, alcohol and tobacco use, had mostly good news, with drops among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders. But it also found use of the drug ecstasy, a favorite at dance clubs, increasing for the second year running. And the number of high school seniors using heroin hit its highest point since the survey began in 1975.
The survey of 45,000 students in 435 randomly chosen schools nationwide found that use of cocaine and hallucinogens such as LSD dropped, with marijuana use unchanged from 1999.
The results were released Thursday by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and Barry McCaffrey, White House drug policy director.
Despite success in holding back increases, Shalala said, ''we must remain vigilant to new threats, particularly that of so-called club drugs such as ecstasy.'' She said parents and teachers must realize they are the ''first and best'' influence against drug use by children.
After increasing through the mid-1990s, teen drug use leveled off - and in some cases, dropped - in 1996. This year, usage was steady no matter how it was measured - in the last month, year or ever.
The survey, which teens fill out anonymously, found that between 1997 and 2000:
-For eighth-graders, use of any drug fell from 22.1 percent to 19.5 percent.
-For 10th-graders, it fell from 38.5 percent to 36.4 percent.
-For 12th-graders, it fell from 42.4 percent to 40.9 percent.
The survey also looked at specific drugs and found that 36.5 percent of seniors had used marijuana in the past year. For 10th-graders, it was nearly as high - 32.2 percent, and for eighth-graders, 15.6 percent. Those figures were all steady from 1999.
Marijuana use peaked in 1979, when just over half of seniors used the substance. The low for marijuana use among 12th-graders was 1992, when just over one in five used it.
Alcohol use remained widespread, though largely unchanged, with nearly three in four high school seniors drinking at least once in the past year. It was two in three for 10th-graders, and just over 40 percent for eighth- graders.
A smaller but still significant chunk of teens reported binge drinking at least once in the two weeks before the survey. Thirty percent of 12th-graders, 26.2 percent of 10th-graders and 14.1 percent of eighth-graders said they had binged, defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row.
Binge drinking peaked in 1981 at 41 percent and the low was 27.5 percent in 1993.
With intense focus on smoking in the last few years, cigarette use dropped significantly.
Last year, 34.6 percent of seniors reported smoking in the past month, falling to 31.4 percent this year. The percentage of eighth-graders who used cigarettes in the past month fell from 17.5 percent last year to 14.6 percent.
There were a few danger signs, including an increase in the use of MDMA, known as ecstasy, among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders. Just over 8 percent of seniors said they had used ecstasy in the past year, up from 5.6 percent in 1999.
And among high school seniors, the percentage of seniors who used heroin crept up from 1.1 percent last year to 1.5 percent this year - the first significant increase in a number of years. That's the highest percentage since the study began.
The survey also found:
-The percentage of high school seniors who used cocaine in the past year fell from 6.2 percent to 5 percent. Past year use of crack fell from 2.7 percent to 2.2 percent,
-Among seniors, past year use of hallucinogens dropped from 9.4 percent in 1999 to 8.1 percent this year.
The study conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has tracked illicit drug use among 12th-graders since 1975. In 1991, eighth- and 10th-graders were added to the study.