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National Institute on Drug Abuse News Release NIDA News Release
FOR RELEASE, December 17, 1999 Contact: Beverly Jackson
Michelle Muth
301-443-6245

Drug Use Among Teenagers Leveling Off


Overall use of illicit drugs among teenagers generally remained unchanged from last year, according to the 25th annual Monitoring the Future Survey released by the Department of Health and Human Services today.

The 1999 study of drug use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders found that illicit drug use, including the use of marijuana, generally remained unchanged in the last year. The survey marks the third year in a row that overall drug use among teenagers has declined or stayed level in all categories: lifetime, past year and past month use. Among the few statistically significant changes reported were increases in the use of MDMA (ecstasy) among 10th and 12th graders; decreases in the use of crack cocaine among 8th and 10th graders; and increases in the use of steroids among 8th and 10th graders.

Among 8th graders, disapproval of trying marijuana once or twice increased for the second year in a row.

Teens' use of alcohol and cigarettes also remained unchanged for the most part among the three grade levels, although daily use of alcohol decreased among seniors, and past month use of cigarettes decreased among 8th graders from 1998 to 1999.

"Today's report confirms that we have halted the dangerous trend of increased drug use among our young people," HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala said. "Our job now is to continue the momentum we have built up with local communities, parents and teachers, and to work even harder to let teenagers know the real danger of alcohol, tobacco and drugs."

"The findings are extremely encouraging and serve as an indicator that the country's team effort and National Drug Strategy are working," said Barry McCaffrey, White House Drug Policy Director. "One note of alarm is the rise in the use of steroids among youth. That's why the agreement which IOC President Samaranch and I reached this week to move towards a drug-free Olympics is so important."

For a third year in a row, attitudes toward use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes generally remained unchanged or improved in all three grades.

"One of NIDA's priorities is getting our scientific research about drugs into the hands of parents, teachers and children, and we will continue to use every means possible -- including our Web site (http://www.drugabuse.gov) -- to inform the public about the dangers of drugs," said Dr. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

From 1998 to 1999, there were a few notable decreases and increases in specific drugs.

Past year crack cocaine use finally began to decrease among 8th graders after the rate tripled between 1991 (0.7 percent) and 1998 (2.1 percent). In 1999, the rate decreased to 1.8 percent. Additionally, past month crack cocaine use decreased from 1.1 percent in 1998 to 0.8 percent in 1999 among 10th graders.

Past year and past month use of steroids increased among 8th and 10th graders in 1999. Past year use increased from 1.2 percent in 1998 to 1.7 percent in 1999 among teens in both grades. Among teenage males specifically, past year use among 8th graders increased from 1.6 percent in 1998 to 2.5 percent in 1999. Among 10th grade males, past year use increased from 1.9 percent in 1998 to 2.8 percent in 1999.

For the first time since 1996 when collection of data on MDMA (ecstasy) began, increases in the use of this drug were observed among 10th and 12th graders. Past year use of ecstasy among 10th graders increased from 3.3 percent in 1998 to 4.4 percent in 1999. Past month use among 12th graders increased from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent in 1999.

The following are highlights of the 1999 Monitoring the Future Survey. Unless otherwise noted, all changes are statistically significant.

Illicit Drug Use

  • Lifetime, past year, past month, and daily use of marijuana/hashish did not change from 1998 to 1999 in all three grades. The same held true for the measure of any illicit drug. Seniors' rate of lifetime marijuana use (49.7 percent) remains well below the high value observed in 1979 (60.4 percent).
  • Between 1998 and 1999, use of marijuana, cocaine, cocaine other than crack, inhalants, heroin, other narcotics, hallucinogens, LSD, PCP, amphetamines, barbiturates, and tranquilizers remained stable for all three grades and all recency-of-use categories (lifetime, past year, past month, and daily use, where measured).
  • In 1999, past month use of marijuana, the most frequently used illicit drug among teenagers, was 9.7 percent for 8th graders, 19.4 percent for 10th graders, and 23.1 percent for 12th graders. Perceived risk of using marijuana did not change dramatically at any grade level.

Ice

  • Use of Ice (crystal methamphetamine) in the past year decreased among 12th graders from 3.0 percent in 1998 to 1.9 percent in 1999.

Steroids

  • Lifetime use of steroids increased among 10th graders from 2.0 percent in 1998 to 2.7 percent in 1999. From 1998 to 1999, past month use increased among 8th graders (from 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent) and among 10th graders (from 0.6 percent to 0.9 percent).

Ecstasy

  • Lifetime, past year, and past month use of MDMA (ecstasy) increased among 12th graders. Lifetime use increased from 5.8 percent in 1998 to 8.0 percent in 1999. Past year use rose from 3.6 percent in 1998 to 5.6 percent in 1999.

Alcohol Use

  • Use of alcohol has also generally remained stable in the past few years among 8th and 10th graders, and more recently among 12th graders. Although daily use among seniors did decrease from 3.9 percent in 1998 to 3.4 percent in 1999, alcohol use among all teenagers remains at unacceptably high levels. Past month use of alcohol in 1999 was 24.0 percent for 8th graders, 40.0 percent for 10th graders, and 51.0 percent for seniors.
  • After decreasing to 38.3 percent in 1998, the proportion of 10th graders reporting having "been drunk" sometime during the past year increased to 40.9 percent in 1999.
  • Perceived harm and disapproval of alcohol use (including binge drinking and other heavy use) did not change among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

Use of Cigarettes and Smokeless Tobacco

  • As with other indicators in 1999, the overall rate of cigarette use remained unchanged or declined somewhat among teenagers. Among 8th graders, past month use of cigarettes decreased from 19.1 percent to 17.5 percent and perceived availability of cigarettes also declined from 73.6 percent to 71.5 percent in 1999.
  • In 1999, past month use of cigarettes was 25.7 percent among 10th graders and 34.6 percent among 12th graders.
  • Disapproval of using smokeless tobacco regularly increased among 8th and 10th graders. Also, fewer 8th graders thought cigarettes were at least fairly easy to get (from 73.6 percent in 1998 to 71.5 percent in 1999).

Perceived Harmfulness, Disapproval, and Perceived Availability of Illicit Drugs

  • Perceived harmfulness of taking steroids decreased among 12th graders from 68.1 percent in 1998 from 62.1 percent in 1999.
  • Among 12th graders, perceived harmfulness in trying crack cocaine once or twice declined from 52.2 percent in 1998 to 48.2 percent in 1999.
  • Among 10th graders, reporting "great risk" in trying inhalants once or twice increased from 45.8 percent in 1998 to 48.2 percent in 1999. Disapproval of trying inhalants once or twice increased among 8th and 10th graders.
  • Perceived availability of cocaine, LSD, PCP, other psychedelics, amyl/butyl nitrites, heroin, and tranquilizers decreased among 12th graders.

Long-term Trends (seniors only)

  • After more than a decade of declining use (1980-1992), marijuana use among high school seniors rose from 1993 to 1995, remained level from 1995 to 1996, increased again from 1996 to 1997, and remained unchanged in 1998 and 1999. For past year prevalence, self-reported marijuana use by seniors peaked at 50.8 percent in 1979 and then declined to a low of 21.9 percent in 1992. Past year marijuana use then increased steadily to 38.5 percent in 1997 with no statistically significant change in the 1998 and 1999 rates (37.5 percent in 1998, 37.8 percent in 1999).
  • In 1997, daily cigarette smoking among seniors reached its highest level (24.6 percent) since 1979. In 1979, 25.4 percent of seniors reported daily cigarette use. Daily smoking decreased in 1980 (21.3 percent) and then remained basically level for many years. During the early 1990s increases were observed, followed by a decrease in 1998 to 22.4 percent. In 1999 the daily smoking rate was 23.1 percent, which is unchanged from the 1998 rate.
  • Alcohol use peaked in the late 1970s (lifetime use was 93.2 percent in 1980, past year use was 88.1 percent in 1979, and past month use was 72.1 percent in 1978), followed by a steady decline throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s, alcohol use remained flat with 1999 rates of lifetime, past year and past month use among 12th graders estimated at 80.0 percent, 73.8 percent, and 51.0 percent, respectively.

The Monitoring the Future Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at the National Institutes of Health, has tracked 12th graders' illicit drug use and attitudes towards drugs since 1975. In 1991, 8th and 10th graders were added to the study. The 1999 study surveyed more than 45,000 students in 433 schools across the nation about their lifetime use, past year use, past month use, daily use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

"Lifetime" refers to use at least once during a respondent's lifetime. "Past year" refers to an individual's drug use at least once during the year preceding their response to the survey. "Past month" refers to an individual's drug use at least once during the month preceding their response to the survey.

An actuality of Secretary Donna E. Shalala, regarding the Monitoring the Future Survey is available on the Internet at: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/1999pres/monitor.wav.

NIDA supports more than 85 percent of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute also carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact sheets on health effects of drugs of abuse and other topics can be ordered free of charge in English and Spanish, by calling NIDA Infofax at 1-888-NIH-NIDA (-644-6432) or 1-888-TTY-NIDA (-889-6432) for the deaf. These fact sheets and further information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the Home page at http://www.nida.nih.gov/.


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