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Home > Publications > NIDA Notes > Vol. 19, No. 6 > Tearoff

Teen Drug Abuse Continues Its Three-Year Decline
Tearoff
Vol. 19, No. 6 (May 2005)



Illicit drug abuse among the Nation's youth declined by almost 7 percent from 2003 to 2004, continuing an encouraging trend that began in 2001. At the same time, the latest report from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey shows a recent increase in the abuse of inhalants among eighth-graders and the painkiller OxyContin among all students surveyed.

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Overall, the trends in the past 3 years have been positive, with a decline in past-month drug abuse among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders combined from 19.4 to 16.1 percent. This reduction translates into roughly 600,000 fewer adolescent drug abusers than in 2001, advancing the goal President George W. Bush set in February 2002 to reduce drug use among youth by 25 percent in 5 years. The 2004 findings emerged from responses provided by nearly 50,000 students in 406 public and private schools across the country. In addition to declines in past-month use, students' past-year use fell from 31.8 to 27.5 percent; their lifetime use dropped from 41.0 to 36.4 percent between 2001 and 2004.

"Drug use is preventable. The overall reduction in drug abuse by America's young people shows the power of partnership among all working to address the problem—from scientists developing basic knowledge to people implementing services in the community to those making policy at all levels," said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "Our concerted effort to provide students, teachers, and families with accurate information about addiction and drug abuse have had an impact, but we must sustain and advance this work to realize further reductions in drug abuse."

The MTF survey, launched in 1975, measures drug, alcohol, and cigarette abuse and attitudes about use among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders nationwide. Funded by NIDA, the survey has been conducted annually since its inception by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. Now in its 30th year, MTF questions and analyses have changed with informational needs—for example, expanding the list of drugs, analyzing data for all three grades combined, tracking students' attitudes toward drug abuse, and examining the impact of antidrug advertising.

Although generally positive, this year's MTF results for two drugs raise concerns and bear close monitoring. Lifetime abuse of inhalants among eighth-graders increased from 15.8 to 17.3 percent between 2003 and 2004. The survey showed that 8th- and 10th-graders' perceptions of the risks associated with abusing inhalants has declined in the past 3 years, suggesting a need to increase awareness of the potentially dangerous consequences of abusing these often inexpensive and easily obtainable intoxicants. The number of high school students using the painkiller OxyContin without medical supervision increased from 2002 to 2004. Past-year abuse of this drug—an opioid with a high potential for addiction—was disturbingly common at 1.7, 3.5, and 5.0 percent for grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively.

Key substance abuse patterns that emerged between 2001 and 2004 are:

  • Cigarettes. Smoking among teenagers continues to decline from peak levels in the mid-1990s, although more slowly than in the past 8 years. Lifetime and current abuse of cigarettes declined among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. Lifetime cigarette abuse dropped 19.5 percent, from 49.1 to 39.5 percent, and current abuse fell 20.3 percent, from 20.3 to 16.1 percent.
  • Marijuana. Current marijuana abuse declined 18.1 percent, from 16.6 to 13.6 percent; past-year abuse also declined 13.7 percent, from 27.5 to 23.7 percent; and lifetime abuse declined 11.2 percent, from 35.3 to 31.3 percent. In the past 2 years, students' perceived risk of abusing marijuana increased markedly; the proportion of teens reporting that it would be easy for them to get the drug has also declined.
  • Amphetamines. Abuse of this class of drug without medical supervision has been widespread among youth in the past, but has been gradually declining. Lifetime abuse fell 19.6 percent—from 13.9 to 11.2 percent. Both past-year and current abuse fell as well, from 9.6 to 7.6 percent and from 4.7 to 3.6 percent, respectively.
  • LSD and MDMA (Ecstasy). Students' abuse of the hallucinogens LSD and MDMA plummeted between 2001 and 2004. Lifetime abuse of LSD fell 55 percent, from 6.6 to 3.0 percent, and past-year and current abuse both dropped by approximately 60 percent.

    Lifetime use of MDMA dropped 40.7 percent, with past-year and current abuse falling by more than half, from 5.5 to 2.5 percent and 2.3 to 0.9 percent, respectively. In the late 1990s and until 2001, the sharp increase in the abuse of MDMA among teens was a concern. Increases in students' perceived risk of abusing the drug preceded the decreases in abuse seen since 2001.

 

Volume 19, Number 6 (May 2005)


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