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Trends down for teen prescription opioid abuse, cigarette, and alcohol use

Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and abuse of prescription pain relievers among teens has declined since 2013 while marijuana use rates were stable, according to the 2014 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, released today by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). However, use of e-cigarettes, measured in the report for the first time, is high.

These 2014 results are part of an overall two-decade trend among the nation’s youth. The MTF survey measures drug use and attitudes among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, is funded by NIDA, and is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. NIDA is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“With the rates of many drugs decreasing, and the rates of marijuana use appearing to level off, it is possible that prevention efforts are having an effect,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “It is now more important than ever for the public health community to continue to educate teens, parents, teachers, community leaders, the media and health care providers about the specific harms of drug use among teens, whose brains are still developing.”

“This year’s Monitoring the Future data show promising signs on the declining rates of adolescent substance use, and reinforce the need to continue efforts on prevention, treatment, and recovery,” said National Drug Control Policy Acting Director Michael Botticelli. “The Obama administration remains steadfast in its commitment to reduce drug use and its consequences – and we know that the best way to reduce drug use is to prevent it from ever starting. I encourage parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors to have a conversation with a young person in their lives about making the healthy decisions that will keep them on a path toward a successful future.”

The 2014 survey showed that past month use of smoked marijuana remained steady among eighth graders at 6.5 percent, 10th graders at 16.6 percent and 12th graders at 21.2 percent. Close to 6 percent of 12th graders report daily use of marijuana. This survey also revealed that, in 2014, in states with medical marijuana laws, 40 percent of 12th graders who reported using marijuana in the past year said they had consumed marijuana in food products (edibles) versus 26 percent in non-medical marijuana states.

However, the majority of high school seniors do not think occasional marijuana smoking is harmful, with only 16.4 percent saying occasional use puts the user at great risk, compared to 27.4 percent five years ago. By contrast, 56.7 percent of seniors say they disapprove of occasional marijuana smoking. Among eighth graders, there was a drop in perceived availability, with 36.9 percent saying it is easy to get marijuana, compared to last year’s 39.1 percent. Eighty-one percent of seniors say it is easy to get marijuana.

The findings related to prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse continued positive downward trends in 2014. Past year use of narcotics other than heroin (which includes all opioid pain relievers) was reported by 6.1 percent of high school seniors, compared with 7.1 percent a year ago and markedly lower than the 2004 peak of 9.5 percent. Past year use of the opioid pain reliever Vicodin showed a significant five-year drop, with 4.8 percent of 12th graders using Vicodin for non-medical reasons, half of what it was just five years ago, at 9.7 percent.