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Decline in Smoking and Illicit Drug Use Among Eighth Graders

December 13, 2007

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BALINTFY: Eighth graders are smoking less, and using illicit drugs less, this according to a new national survey. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains the importance of the survey results.

VOLKOW: What is very exciting about the results from the 2007 Monitoring the Future survey is that it showed significant decline in the use of both illicit substances and smoking among 8th graders and this is the youngest group of kids that are evaluated as part of the survey done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to determine the rate of abuse of substances in this country.

BALINTFY: The Monitoring the Future project--now in its 32nd year--is a series of independent surveys of eighth, 10th and 12th graders conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The 2007 survey results appear to reflect an ongoing cultural shift among teens and their attitudes about smoking and substance abuse. Lifetime, past-month and daily smoking among eighth graders has dropped considerably in the past-year, and daily cigarette smoking among eighth graders dropped from 4 percent to 3 percent; down from its 10.4 percent peak in 1996.

VOLKOW: This has major implications because we know we can predict, if these trends are maintained, a significant drop in the morbidity and mortality of these kids as they grow into adulthood. At the same time, because cigarette smoking is, in general, the first drug that kids will use-and it predicts subsequent use of illicit substances-this may also predict that these kids-if they maintain these low rates of smoking-will end up being at lower risk of abusing illicit substances.

BALINTFY: Similarly, annual prevalence of marijuana use by eighth graders fell from 11.7 percent in 2006 to 10.3 percent in 2007, and is down from its 1996 peak of 18.3 percent.

VOLKOW: So again, because this is that stage in their lives when they are particularly vulnerable for drug experimentation, and for the adverse effects of repeated drug exposure, this is very good news because it decreases the likelihood that they will become problematic drug users later on in life.

BALINTFY: But Dr. Volkow warns, the survey results were not all good news.

VOLKOW: Nonetheless there is something that continues to be of worry, which is the high rate of prescription drug abuse by high school teenagers. And we have seen over the past 3 or 4 years that numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 more frequently abused substances are actually prescription medications, which are these types of drugs. The one that is most frequently abused in this type of drug is Vicodin, which is a pain killer, and approximately close to 10% of 12th graders have abused Vicodin for nonmedical purposes.

BALINTFY: Other highlights from the survey are that Marijuana use appears to be more prevalent among males, but prescription drug use is roughly the same among 12th grade males and females. And among 12th graders, whites appear to have the highest rates of past-year use of illicit drugs; African Americans have the lowest. This is Joe Balintfy at the National Institutes of Health Bethesda, Maryland.

This page was last updated December 2007

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