Washington - Cigarette smoking is at its lowest level in a survey of teenagers, and use of illicit drugs has been declining, but continuing high rates of abuse for prescription painkillers remain a worry, the government reported Monday.

The decline in drug use is "quite remarkable news," Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in issuing the agency's annual survey of drug use by children in grades eight, 10 and 12.

But she added that "prescription drugs are very powerful medicines that are effective when used properly and with a doctor's supervision. Using these drugs without a prescription is dangerous. It's imperative that teens get this message."

She also raised concerns about increased use of inhalants, and Lloyd Johnston, director of the study, noted that declines in smoking seem to have stopped among eighth-graders, a finding that could raise concerns in the future, he said.

Karen Tandy of the Drug Enforcement Administration warned of the increased availability of drugs.

"The drug dealers that used to be in the back alley are now in the bedrooms of our children because they come to them through the Internet," she said.

In the study, 9.5 percent of 12th-graders reported using painkiller Vicodin, and 5.5 percent reported using OxyContin in the past year.

Also of concern is the increase in the use of sedatives and barbiturates among 12th-graders since 2001.

Overall, the report had good news, particularly about cigarette smoking.

It cited a 19 percent decline over the past four years in the use of any illegal drug in the month before the survey was done.

Lifetime use of cigarettes declined 2 percent among eighth-graders, decreased 1.7 percent among 10th-graders and declined 2.8 percent among 12th-graders, according to the Monitoring the Future survey done by the University of Michigan.