Purple haze is closing in on Augusta as more kids tune in and turn on to drugs, officials said.
Although teens are steering clear of hard-core drugs like heroin and cocaine, their use of marijuana and the hallucinogen LSD is steadily climbing, said police and drug counselors in Richmond and Columbia counties.
"Oh, it's increased, without a doubt," said Leroy Westbrook, an intake officer with the Richmond County juvenile court system. "Now, it's dropping down to the middle schools. I'd say about 20 percent of middle school students are using marijuana on a regular basis, a couple of times a week."
A nationwide government survey shows a 105 percent jump in teen-agers' drug use since 1992.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which produced the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, has also produced second report showed that visits to hospitals for drug-related emergencies also are up.
Richmond County juvenile court statistics show 36 cases of misdemeanor possession of marijuana in 1995, but 43 cases in just the first six months of 1996.
Senior Jay Cermenaro, a 17-year-old Lakeside High School student, said his classmates mixed marijuana with LSD, or `acid.' He said younger kids are getting involved - especially sixth graders.
"Just go to any kind of big parties and you'll see people sitting around smoking," he said. "A lot of times, you can go to a party and smell it there. Or at a bonfire, people will be sitting in circles, passing (marijuana) around."
The nationwide drug abuse survey found that drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds rose 105 percent from 1992 to 1995. The increase was from 5.3 percent of those surveyed in 1992 to 10.9 percent in 1995. There were 22.2 million Americans in that age group last year and 20.7 million in 1992, according to government figures.
The survey of 17,747 people showed levels of drug use were about the same among white, black and Hispanic teens and in teens from different economic backgrounds. It also said:
- Monthly use of LSD and other hallucinogens by 12th-graders jumped 100 percent, from 2 percent to 4 percent, between 1992 and 1995 and from 2.6 percent to 4 percent between 1994 and 1995.
- Cocaine use among 12- to 17-year-olds rose 166 percent, from 0.3 percent to 0.8 percent, between 1992 and 1995. The rate for 1994 also was 0.3 percent.
- Marijuana use among teens increased 150 percent, from 3.4 percent to 8.2 percent, in the 1992-95 period and 37 percent, from 6.0 percent to 8.2 percent, between 1994 and 1995. In 1994 alone, an estimated 2.3 million people started using marijuana.
- There were about 10 million beer, wine and distilled spirit drinkers under age 21 last year. Of the total, 4.4 million were described as binge drinkers, including 1.7 million described as heavy drinkers.
- The total number of occasional cocaine users - all ages - last year was 2.5 million.
A second report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, also administered by HHS, showed emergency room visits since 1992 rose 96 percent for marijuana, 58 percent for heroin and 19 percent for cocaine.
Rick Bowers, a drug and alcohol counselor at Charter Augusta Behavioral Center, said many teens mistakenly believe LSD can't hurt them because they don't get addicted to it.
"They think they're safe, because they're not dependent on it," he said. Richmond County school officials are planning more drug sweeps this term than usual, said Superintendent Charles Larke.
"We will do more locker searches this year than in past years, and we will use drug dogs more this year than in past years," Dr. Larke said.
Trustees, concerned about a marijuana "comeback," this summer passed a zero tolerance drug policy that sends students found guilty of having drugs on campus to the alternative school for 20 days. Previously, such students were suspended for 10 days, but some punishments were reduced to five days.Staff writers Kelly Daniel and Lori Wiechman contributed to this article.