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Teen Substance Abuse Continues to Decline

March 01, 2008

Use of illicit drugs by students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades declined 24 percent over the past 6 years, according to the 2007 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The rate of past-month illicit drug use dropped from 19.4 percent in 2001 to 14.8 percent in 2007, which indicates that an estimated 860,000 fewer teenagers are current users.

Declines among 8th graders were particularly noteworthy. Illicit drug use and cigarette smoking declined significantly not only in the past 6 years, but also since 2006. Typically, year-to-year changes are within a margin of error and therefore not large enough to be considered significant.

NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow said the smoking rate for all three grades combined (13.6 percent) was the lowest in the MTF's 33-year history. "We are especially heartened to see the decrease in smoking among 8th graders and will be watching the next 2 years closely to see if this decline will stick as these kids get older," Dr. Volkow said. "If this change in attitude is carried with them throughout the rest of their teen years, we could see a dramatic drop in smoking-related deaths in their generation."

Marijuana, methamphetamine, and amphetamines are among the drugs most responsible for the overall decline in abuse of illicit drugs over the past 6 years. Although marijuana continued to be the most widely abused illicit drug, past-month abuse rates fell 25 percent, from 16.6 percent to 14.8 percent, since 2001. Past-month meth abuse dropped 64 percent (from 1.4 percent to 0.5 percent) and abuse of amphetamines fell 32 percent (from 4.7 percent to 3.2 percent).

Change in Illicit Drug Use by 8th, 10th, and 12th Graders Since 2001. Percent Reporting Past Month Use
  2001 2007 % Change from 2001
Any Illicit Drug 19.4% 14.8% -24*
Marijuana 16.6% 12.4% -25*
MDMA (Ecstasy) 2.4% 1.1% -54*
LSD 1.5% 0.6% -60*
Amphetamines 4.7% 3.2% -32*
Inhalants 2.8% 2.6% -7
Methamphetamine 1.4% 0.5% -64*
Steroids 0.9% 0.6% -33*
Cocaine 1.5% 1.4% -7
Heroin 0.4% 0.4% 0
Alcohol 35.5% 30.1% -15*
Cigarettes 20.2% 13.6% -33*

* Denotes statistically significant change from 2001.
Note: Past month use, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades combined; percent chance calculated from figures having more precision than shown.
Source: University of Michigan, 2007 Monitoring the Future survey.

Prescription Meds: An Ongoing Concern

Contrary to the general trend, nonmedical use of prescription medications "is holding at near record levels," said Dr. Lloyd Johnston of the University of Michigan, the study's principal investigator. Abuse of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin by teenagers is a new phenomenon that has emerged in the past 5 years; these medications are being prescribed in record numbers and kept in households where kids have access to them, observed Dr. Volkow. In 2007, 15.4 percent of 12th graders reported abuse of prescription drugs in the past year; Vicodin had the highest rate of abuse—9.6 percent.

Another concern is an apparent softening of attitudes toward MDMA (ecstasy) and LSD among 8th and 10th graders, fewer of whom said they perceived these drugs as harmful. Ecstasy abuse by teenagers in all three grades has decreased over the past 6 years, but 10th and 12th graders reported an increase in past-year abuse in 2007. Dr. Johnston noted that these results are worrisome because perceived risk is an important predictor of abuse.

For the second year, the survey included questions about the abuse of over-the-counter cough medicines. In both 2006 and 2007, rates of abuse were 4 percent for 8th graders and 5 percent for 10th graders; for 12th graders, the rate dropped from 7 percent to 6 percent, a change that was not statistically significant. Taking large quantities of cough medicines with the active ingredient dextromethorphan in order to get high, a practice referred to as "robotripping," can cause brain damage and even death. Robitussin, Coricidin HBP, Vicks NyQuil, and Vicks Formula 44 are among the most commonly abused brands.

The 2007 survey covered 48,025 students in 403 public and private schools across the United States. Participants reported on their use of an extensive list of illicit drugs and other substances in the past month, past year, and in their lifetime. Further information and the full text of the survey are available at our Monitoring the Future Page and at www.monitoringthefuture.org.

This page was last updated March 2008

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    National Institute of Drug Abuse (2008). Teen Substance Abuse Continues to Decline Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2008/03/teen-substance-abuse-continues-to-decline

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