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NIDA. (1998, December 18). Drug Use Eases Among Teens for Second Consecutive Year. Retrieved from

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Secretary Shalala Also Announces NIDA Goes to School Initiative

December 18, 1998

Illicit drug use among teenagers remained stable for the second year in a row, and in some cases even decreased, according to the 24th annual Monitoring the Future Survey released today by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The 1998 survey of drug use among adolescents found general stability among the proportion of 12th graders using most illicit drugs in the past year or past month, including the most frequently used drug, marijuana. There were also important decreases this year in 10th graders' use of marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes, and among 8th graders, the survey indicates evidence of a gradual decline in drug use over the past two years.

"These new findings are encouraging, since they seem to indicate a leveling off in teens' use of illicit drugs, particularly marijuana, after years of dramatic increases," 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. We now have an opportunity to drive home this important message."

Secretary Shalala also announced today that the NIDA Goes to School initiative will distribute science-based education materials to 18,000 public and private middle schools in the country and at U.S. military bases overseas. As part of HHS' ongoing outreach efforts, NIDA Goes to School includes the latest information on how drugs damage children's minds and bodies.

"This progress is the second straight year without any significant increases in youth drug use," said Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Barry R. McCaffrey. "This consistent progress not only gives reason for optimism that we have turned the tide, but also demonstrates that our balanced approach - focusing on preventing children from turning to drugs, treating drug addicts, and breaking trafficking organizations - works."

The decline in some measures from 1997 to 1998 appears to continue the leveling off in illicit drug use noted cautiously in last year's Monitoring the Future survey. While other surveys showed a slight increase from 1996 to 1997 in use of some drugs, a series of government reports have confirmed that the nation is experiencing the first real slowdown in illicit drug use after years of dramatic increases. In particular, use of marijuana, the drug most widely used by teens, appears to be leveling off, with declines reported in this survey for the second year in a row. This year's study also reports an increase in perceived risk of harm in using marijuana, which generally is predictive of a decline in marijuana use. This report is the first to find an increase in the perceived risk of marijuana use among 8th graders since 1991.

Daily cigarette smoking among 12th graders in 1998 is at 22.4 percent. Although down slightly from the recent high of 24.6 percent in 1997, the 1998 rate is still above the low point of 17.2 percent in 1992. Since 1979, daily smoking decreased to 21.3 percent in 1980, remained level for many years and increased between the early and mid-1990s.

"Increases in disapproval and perceived harm rates generally play out as less drug use," said NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner. "And 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."

One disquieting increase in this year's survey noted that "crack" cocaine use among 8th graders rose from 2.7 percent in 1997 for lifetime use to 3.2 percent in 1998.

The following are highlights from the 1998 Monitoring the Future survey. Unless otherwise noted, all changes are statistically significant.

ANY ILLICIT DRUG USE - Past year use among 10th graders decreased from 38.5 percent in 1997 to 35.0 percent in 1998. Past year use among 8th graders decreased from 23.6 percent in 1996 to 21.0 percent in 1998.

MARIJUANA - Lifetime, past year, and past month use dropped among 10th graders: from 42.3 percent in 1997 to 39.6 percent in 1998 for lifetime use; from 34.8 percent in 1997 to 31.1 percent in 1998 for past year use; and from 20.5 percent in 1997 to 18.7 percent in 1998 for past month use. Rates of marijuana use among 8th and 12th graders remained stable.

CRACK/COCAINE - Crack and cocaine use remained stable across the board for 10th and 12th graders. Among 8th graders, however, increases were noted in lifetime use of crack (from 2.7 percent in 1997 to 3.2 percent in 1998) and in past year use (from 1.7 percent to 2.1 percent of 8th graders).

HEROIN - Heroin use remained stable across the board for each grade.

INHALANTS - Past month inhalant use decreased among 8th graders, from 5.6 percent in 1997 to 4.8 percent in 1998. While inhalant use among 8th graders remains generally higher than for the other grades, use has been declining gradually in all three grades since 1995.

LSD - Past month use of LSD decreased among 8th graders, from 1.5 percent in 1997 to 1.1 percent in 1998.

ALCOHOL - For a few years, alcohol use has remained stable among 8th and 10th graders. Alcohol use among 12th graders had increased between 1996 and 1997, but remained stable from 1997 to 1998. In addition, some decreases were seen among 10th graders: lifetime use decreased from 72.0 percent in 1997 to 69.8 percent in 1998; past year use decreased from 65.2 percent in 1997 to 62.7 percent in 1998.

CIGARETTES - Among 12th graders in 1997, daily use of cigarettes in the past month was at its highest level since 1979 (24.6 percent in 1997 vs. 25.4 percent in 1979). In 1998, the number of 12th graders' smoking daily decreased to 22.4 percent, and those smoking a half-pack or more of cigarettes per day decreased from 14.3 percent in 1997 to 12.6 percent in 1998. African American students continue to have the lowest rates of smoking, with 14.9 percent of African American 12th graders reporting past month smoking, compared to 41.7 percent of white and 26.6 percent of Hispanic 12th graders.

ATTITUDES & PERCEPTIONS OF DRUG ABUSE - For the Monitoring the Future Study, students are asked about their perceived harm/risk of using an illicit drug; personal disapproval of those who use drugs; and their perceived availability of drugs.

The following data are encouraging:

The percentage of 8th graders reporting "great risk" in trying marijuana once or twice increased from 25.3 percent in 1997 to 28.1 percent in 1998, and the percentage of those who perceived great risk in occasional use increased from 43.1 percent in 1997 to 45.0 percent in 1998.

The percentage of 12th graders seeing great risk in trying amphetamines once or twice increased from 31.0 percent in 1997 to 35.3 percent in 1998.

And, for alcohol, the perceived harm in trying one or two drinks increased among 8th graders, from 10.4 percent in 1997 to 12.1 percent in 1998, and 10th graders, from 9.0 percent in 1997 to 10.1 percent in 1998.

Among 8th and 10th graders, the perceived availability of several drugs decreased, including marijuana, LSD, heroin and other opiates, amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquilizers, alcohol, and cigarettes.

A few trends, however, appear to be moving in the wrong direction and may require particular attention:

The only statistically significant change in personal disapproval of people who use drugs occurred among 8th graders, fewer of whom reported disapproval of people taking LSD once or twice or regularly. Also, fewer 8th graders saw great risk in regular use of LSD; this percentage decreased from 64.1 percent in 1997 to 59.6 percent in 1998.

The perceived harm in taking cocaine powder occasionally decreased among 10th graders, declining from 73.9 percent in 1997 to 71.8 percent in 1998.

Among 12th graders, perceived availability of opiates other than heroin increased from 1997 to 1998.

LONG-TERM TRENDS, 1975-1998 - Monitoring the Future has surveyed 12th graders continuously since 1975, and notes some long-term trends for this group only.

From a peak in drug use that occurred in 1979, use of marijuana by 12th graders declined from 1980 to 1992, rose between 1993 and 1995, stabilized for a year, increased between 1996 and 1997, and remained unchanged in 1998. In 1979, past year marijuana use for 12th graders peaked at 50.8 percent; in 1998, 37.5 percent of 12th graders have used marijuana at least once in the past year.

The Monitoring the Future Study, conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, has tracked 12th graders' illicit drug use and also attitudes towards drugs since 1975. In 1991, 8th and 10th graders were added to the study. For the 1998 study, 49,866 students were surveyed from a representative sample of 422 public and private schools nationwide.

"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.