As National Drug Facts Week winds down, here’s a look at why the goal to shatter the myths about drugs and drug abuse for teens is so important. The data below is a summary from the latest Monitoring the Future survey, from NIDA’s website.
Illicit Drug Use
Illicit drug use among teenagers remains high, largely due to increasing popularity of marijuana. After a long period of decline, marijuana use by adolescents has been on the increase. In 2013, 7% of 8th graders, 18% of 10th graders, and 22.7% of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month, up from 5.8%, 13.8% and 19.4% in 2008. Daily use has also increased: 6.5% of 12th graders now use marijuana every day, compared to 5% in the mid-2000s.
Rising marijuana use reflects changing perceptions and attitudes. Young people are showing less disapproval of marijuana use and decreased perception that marijuana is dangerous. The growing perception of marijuana as a safe drug may reflect recent movements to legalize the drug for medical and adult recreational use in many states.
New synthetic drugs are a cause for concern, but their use is not increasing. Synthetic marijuana (also known as Spice or K2)—referring to herbal mixtures laced with synthetic chemicals similar to THC—was added to the MTF survey in 2011, when 11.4% of high school seniors reported using it in the past year; in 2013, it had dropped to 7.9%. These mixtures could be obtained legally until 2012 and are still wrongly perceived as a safe alternative to marijuana. The synthetic stimulants known as “bath salts” were added to the survey in 2012; in 2013, just 0.9% of seniors had used these drugs in the past year.
Non-medical use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines remains a significant part of the teen drug problem. In 2013, 15% of high-school seniors used a prescription drug non-medically in the past year. The survey shows continued abuse of Adderall, commonly used to treat ADHD, with 7.4% of seniors reporting taking it for non-medical reasons in the past year. However, only 2.3% of seniors report abuse of Ritalin, another ADHD medication. Abuse of the opioid pain reliever Vicodin has shown a marked decrease in the last 10 years, now measured at 5.3% for high school seniors, compared to 10.5% in 2003.
Positive trends in the past several years include reduced use of inhalants and less use of cocaine, especially crack cocaine. Past-year inhalant use by younger teens continued a downward trend in 2013, with 5.2% of 8th graders and 3.5% of 10th graders reporting use. Five-year trends of past-year cocaine use across all grades showed a drop as well. Other drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy (MDMA) and hallucinogens, are holding fairly steady.
Alcohol use among teens remains at historically low levels. In 2013, 3.5% of 8th graders, 12.8% of 10th graders, and 26% of 12th graders reported getting drunk in the past month, continuing a downward trend from previous years. Significant declines include sharp drops from previous years in daily alcohol use by 10th and 12th graders (0.9% and 2.2%, respectively, in 2013). In 2013, 22.1% of high school seniors reported binge drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks)—a drop of almost one-third since the late 1990s.
Fewer teens smoke cigarettes than smoke marijuana. Cigarette smoking by high school students peaked in 1996–1997 and has declined continuously since then. In 2013, 9.6% of students surveyed by MTF were current (past-month) cigarette smokers—the lowest teen smoking has been in the history of the survey. By comparison, 15.6% were current marijuana smokers.
Other forms of smoked tobacco are becoming popular, however. The use of hookah water pipes and small cigars has raised public health concerns and has recently been added to the MTF survey. In 2013, 21.4% of 12th graders had smoked a hookah at some point in the past year, an increase from 18.3% in 2012, and 20.4% had smoked a small cigar.