WASHINGTON (AP) _ Both college towns, Boston and Boulder, Colo., share another distinction: They lead the nation in marijuana use. Northwestern Iowa and southern Texas have the lowest use.
For the first time, the government looked at the use of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and various other substances, legal as well as illegal, by region rather than by state for a report Thursday.
Regions could be as specific as Riverside, Calif., or as broad as all of the state of New York (minus New York City). Federal officials say the information will help states decide where they should spend money for treatment and prevention programs.
For marijuana, 5.1 percent of people around the country reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days. In Boston, the home of Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern and several other colleges, 12.2 percent reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days.
John Auerbach, executive director of the public health commission for the city of Boston, said the survey might not reflect current marijuana use in Boston because the data came from 1999-2001 national surveys.
"All that said, we're not surprised that substance abuse is a serious issue in the Boston area,'' Auerbach said. "The mayor and the health department have made the issue of substance abuse a top public health priority.''
Auerbach also acknowledged that the data may reflect the city's significant 20-something population.
"College students in general have a more relaxed attitude about marijuana than other age groups,'' he said. "But in general, I don't think Boston has a markedly differently perspective on marijuana than other parts of the country.''
The federal report doesn't explain why certain regions fare worse than others when it comes to smoking pot or cigarettes, or for heavy alcohol use, only that they do.
In Boulder County, the home of the University of Colorado, 10.3 percent reported using marijuana during the same time period. But a public health official who has studied marijuana usage there said he too had doubts about the report.
Dr. Chuck Stout, the county's public health director, said he has studied marijuana usage among teens. The percentage of high school students in Boulder County who acknowledged smoking marijuana differed little from state and national averages. He said he doubted that students at the university were heavier marijuana users than students at dozens of other universities around the country.
"Where you have concentrations of younger, active people, you'll have more experimentation with a variety of risk behaviors, but that's true for so many other parts of the country as well,'' Stout said. "I think this (report) is a huge stretch.''
Federal officials said they highlighted the marijuana report because it's the most commonly used illicit drug. But the survey also measures 11 other categories.
For example, the survey measures binge drinking _ defined as five or more drinks in one setting.
Nationally, 20 percent of people age 12 and older reported one or more episodes of binge drinking during the previous month.
Boston scored high in that category, too, with nearly 30 percent of respondents acknowledging binge drinking. But the Northeast and Southeast regions of North Dakota reported binge drinking among 32 percent of residents of that age group. Overall, North Dakota had the highest rate of binge drinking when compared with other states _ 29.2 percent.
"The further north you are, typically, the more alcohol is consumed,'' said Douglas Wright, a mathematical statistician with the federal government who helped put the report together.
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