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National Institute on Drug Abuse - NIDA NOTES
Special Report
Volume 14, Number 1 (April, 1999)


Tracking Trends in Teen Drug Abuse Over the Years


In 1975, shortly after NIDA was established, NIDA's first Monitoring the Future study (MTF) began to collect data on drug use among the Nation's high school seniors. In 1991, 8th- and 10th-grade students were added to the annual study to examine drug use among younger adolescents.

Over the course of its 24-year history, MTF has charted some significant changes in illicit drug use among America's school-aged children. For example, some trends in annual use - use in the past year - include:

  • Annual use of any illicit drug by high school seniors peaked at 54.2 percent in 1979, declined to a low of 27.1 percent in 1992, then climbed steadily to 42.4 percent in 1997. Seniors' use of any illicit drug has been stable since then.
  • Annual marijuana use among high school seniors crested in 1979 at 50.8 percent, then declined to 21.9 percent in 1992, before rising steadily to 38.5 in 1997. Marijuana use by seniors has remained steady since then.
  • Annual cocaine use more than doubled among high school seniors from 5.6 percent in 1975 to 13.1 percent in 1985 then declined sharply to 4.9 percent in 1996. Seniors' cocaine use has been stable since then.
  • Heroin use always has been relatively low among school children. However, in recent years, the availability of cheap, high-purity heroin that enables users to get high by snorting the drug rather than injecting it has contributed to heroin use approximately doubling among high school seniors from 0.4 percent in 1991 to 1.0 percent in 1998.
  • Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin use bottomed out in the early 1990s but has since risen among children at all grade levels. MTF figures for 1997 and 1998 suggest this trend toward increased illicit drug use is leveling off and may be in the process of reversing.

Trends in Drug Use

The Monitoring the Future study is funded by NIDA and conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

NIDA NOTES - Volume 14, Number 1


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