Survey Shows Prescription Drug Abuse Remains High; Marijuana Use Also a Problem
While cigarette and alcohol use among youth continued on a downward trend in 2008, the decline in marijuana use across all three grades has slowed and the perception of harm towards using marijuana has decreased. That´s according to the 2008 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey, released today by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The MTF survey indicates that marijuana use among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, which has shown a consistent decline since the mid-1990s, appears to have leveled off with 10.9 percent of eighth graders, 23.9 percent of tenth graders, and 32.4 percent of twelfth graders reporting past year use. Heightening the concern over this stabilization in use is the finding that, compared to last year, the proportion of eighth graders who perceived smoking marijuana as harmful and the proportion disapproving of its use have decreased. And while there was no statistically significant change in the use of marijuana, it actually increased among 8th and 12th graders by 0.6 and 0.7 percentage points, respectively.
“The 2008 survey results reinforce the fact that we cannot become complacent in our efforts to persuade teens not to smoke, drink or abuse illicit substances,” said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. “As long as young people are being exposed to images that make taking drugs seem glamorous, we need to counter them with truthful messages about the risks and consequences of drug abuse.”
Also of concern in the 2008 MTF survey is the continuing high rate of prescription drug abuse among teens, with little change seen in the past six years. In 2008, 15.4 percent of 12th graders said they abused prescription drugs within the past year. Among those, nearly 10 percent reported past year nonmedical use of Vicodin, and 4.7 percent reported abusing Oxycontin, both opioid painkillers. The survey notes that seven of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th graders in the year prior to the survey were either prescribed or purchased over-the-counter.
The MTF Survey also showed a several-year decline among 12th graders who perceive use of LSD as harmful. Similarly, the proportion of 8th graders who perceive inhalants as harmful has declined, as has their disapproval of inhalant abuse.
The good news in the survey is that cigarette smoking is at the lowest rate in the history of the MTF survey, and there continues to be a gradual decline in alcohol use in all grades, with a significant decline from 2007 to 2008 among tenth graders on all measures of use (lifetime, past year, past month, daily, and binge drinking). Nevertheless, given the devastating related health costs, tobacco and alcohol use by teens still remain at high levels. While drinking continues a slow downward trend, close to 25 percent of seniors report having five or more drinks in a row sometime in the two weeks prior to the survey.
In addition, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders are continuing to show a gradual decline in their use of amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine, and crack.
Dr. Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator from the University of Michigan, said all of the drugs that continued to decline this year are central nervous system stimulants. Their decline in use had the effect of lowering the proportion of students reporting use of any illicit drug other than marijuana modestly. However, it was statistically significant only in 10th grade, where annual prevalence declined by 1.7 percentage points to 11.3 percent.
There was also positive news in the abuse of over-the-counter cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM). There was a decline is use among 8th and 12th graders, with the annual prevalence rate among 8th graders falling by 0.6 percent and 12th graders’ by 1.3 percent. “It thus appears that attempts to discourage misuse of dextromethorphan have proven somewhat successful, though certainly not entirely so,” the University of Michigan news release stated.
The Monitoring the Future survey - now in its 33rd year - is a series of classroom surveys of eighth , tenth, and twelfth graders conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Overall, 46,348 students from 386 public and private schools in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades participated in this year's survey.