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Volume 14, Number 1 (April, 1999)

Drug Use Among America's Teenagers Shows Slight Downward Trend

By Patrick Zickler, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer


The prevalence of illicit drug use among America's teenagers dropped slightly in 1998. The decrease follows a leveling off in 1997, and suggests that the increasing use of drugs by teenagers that marked most of the 1990s may have begun to turn around.

Data compiled by the NIDA-supported Monitoring the Future study show that, overall, teenagers were less likely to use marijuana, hallucinogens, or inhalants last year than they had been the year before. Heroin use leveled off in 1998, following several years of slight increases. Among all illicit drugs included in the survey, only crack and tranquilizers were used by a significantly higher percentage of teenagers in any grade in 1998 than in 1997, according to the study.

The Monitoring the Future study, funded by NIDA and conducted annually by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, surveyed nearly 50,000 students - including equal numbers of males and females - in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades at more than 420 public and private schools across the country. Data from the most recent survey, conducted in the spring of 1998, were released by Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Donna E. Shalala at a press conference in December 1998.

"These new findings are encouraging, since they represent a leveling off in teens' use of illicit drugs," Secretary Shalala said. "It's not easy to convince our young people that drug use is illegal, dangerous, and wrong, but it is absolutely critical to their future."

The survey also asked students about the risks associated with drug use. The percentage of students who said there is a "great risk" associated with drug use rose or remained unchanged for most illicit drugs.

"We seem to be in the middle of a turnaround in young people's use of most kinds of illicit drugs following an earlier period of sustained increases," Dr. Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator for the study, said. "These behaviors sometimes change very slowly, and often only after there has been some reassessment by young people of how dangerous these various drugs are. Such reassessment now appears to be occurring for many drugs, but very gradually."

Teenagers now are responding to increased knowledge of the facts about illicit drug use, NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner said. "The more that scientific research helps us understand what addiction is and how illicit drugs change the brain and behavior, the better able students and others will be to make informed decisions. The findings from this year's report suggest that many of our educational efforts are beginning to pay off," Dr. Leshner said.


Highlights of the 1998 Monitoring the Future Study


  • Marijuana. Use declined among all three grades, and this accounted for most of the overall decline in 1998 drug use. Eighth-grade use declined for the second successive year. Nonetheless, marijuana use is still prevalent: 22 percent of 8th-graders and nearly half of 12th-graders surveyed reported that they have tried marijuana. However, the perceived risk of marijuana use has increased among 8th-graders.

  • Heroin. Although use did not decline, it remained unchanged among all students in 1998: 1.3 percent of 8th-graders, 1.4 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.0 percent of 12th-graders reported using heroin at least once during the previous 12 months. This leveling in heroin use follows a rise in perceived risk over the previous 2 years.

  • Stimulants. Use decreased for the second consecutive year to 7.2 percent among 8th-graders, showed a 1-year drop to 10.7 percent among 10th-graders, and leveled off at 10.1 percent among 12th-graders.

  • Hallucinogens. Overall use decreased slightly at all grade levels - to 3.4 percent among 8th- graders, 6.9 percent among 10th-graders, and 9.0 percent among 12th-graders. Decreases in use of MDMA, or ecstasy, were recorded for the second year in a row for 10th- and 12th-grade students.

  • Crack Cocaine. Among 8th-graders, use of crack cocaine increased to its highest level, 2.1 percent, since 1991, when the drug was first included in the 8th grade survey. Slight increases - also to their highest levels in recent years - were reported for crack use by 10th-graders, to 2.5 percent, and 12th-graders, to 2.5 percent.

  • Inhalants. Use declined among all students for the third consecutive year. In 1998, 11.1 percent of 8th-graders, 8.0 percent of 10th-graders, and 6.2 percent of 12th-graders reported using inhalants at least once in the past year. This decrease follows an upward shift in 1996 in the proportion of students associating great risk with inhalant use.

  • Gender. Overall, higher percentages of males than females reported using illicit drugs at least once during the previous year. As has been the case since 1991 - the first year for which data are available - younger girls are more likely than boys to use illicit drugs other than marijuana, primarily due to their greater use of stimulants and tranquilizers; 12.1 percent of 8th-grade girls and 9.6 percent of boys reported using drugs other than marijuana. In 10th grade, 17.5 percent of girls and 15.6 percent of boys reported using drugs other than marijuana at least once during the previous year. Among 12th-graders, 21.7 percent of boys and 18.0 percent of girls reported using drugs other than marijuana.


For More Information

Additional information about the Monitoring the Future study can be obtained by calling NIDA Infofax at 1-888-NIH-NIDA (644-6432) or by accessing NIDA's home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.nida.nih.gov/ and clicking on Information on Drugs of Abuse. Information is also available from the Monitoring the Future home page at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan: http://www.isr.umich.edu/src/mtf.

 

NIDA NOTES - Volume 14, Number 1

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