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Teen Drug Use Ticks Down in 2004

Marijuana Use Continues Drop but Narcotics, Inhalants on the Rise
WebMD Health News

Dec. 21, 2004 -- Illegal drug use by U.S. teens fell slightly between 2003 and 2004, though teens are now using more inhalants and in some cases abusing more narcotic prescription painkillers than they did last year.

Just over 16% of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders in an annual national survey reported using an illegal drug within the last month, down from 17.3% last year. The decrease was mostly driven by less use of marijuana, the most popular illegal drug among teens.

Federal drug officials described the overall decrease as part of a trend of slow but steady success in preventing substance abuse among American adolescents. Past-month drug use as reported by teens themselves has fallen 17% since 2001, according to the Monitoring the Future Study, which is funded by the federal government and conducted by the University of Michigan.

"Overall this data means that 600,000 fewer American teens are using drugs in 2004 than in 2001," says John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.

About 1.2% fewer teens reported using marijuana in the past month in the 2004 study than in 2003, a drop officials attribute to widespread media messages that appear to have boosted adolescents' aversion to trying the drug.

Lloyd D. Johnston, PhD, a University of Michigan researcher who leads the annual study, says the numbers reflect "a modest continuing decline" in adolescent drug use in the U.S. The survey asks approximately 50,000 teens at 406 public and private schools to anonymously describe their drug use habits.

Use of Inhalants on the Rise

Decreases in marijuana use masked increases in several other categories of drugs, including inhalants among eighth graders and narcotic painkillers like OxyContin among high school seniors. Though overall use of illicit drugs excluding marijuana dropped 0.4% among eighth graders, it remained unchanged in 10th graders and increased 0.4% for 12th graders.

A nearly 1% rise in the use of inhalants by eighth graders over the past year "should serve as an early warning for increased attention" to abuse of the products, he said. Inhalant use, often called "huffing," was up among all age groups but now approaches 10% in eighth graders, the most likely group to use them, the survey showed.

Several household products, including aerosol cans and gasoline containers, can offer a fleeting high when fumes are inhaled. Limited federal campaigns have targeted awareness of the inhalants' dangers, though officials say they are reluctant to draw too much of teens' attention to the euphoric potential of readily available household items.

Inhalant use had dropped steadily from its peak in the mid-1990s but has now begun to rise again. Officials said they plan to revisit public education campaigns warning of inhalant use.

"It's possible that in paying attention to other drugs we may have forgone a bit of inhalant use among teens, says Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Five percent of high school seniors now report having taken OxyContin for recreational use in the past year, up from 4% in 2002. Vicodin, another prescription narcotic, was used by 9.3% of seniors.

"I find these numbers still a disturbingly high rate of use," Johnston said of the figures on prescription drug abuse.

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