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Modest Declines in Teen Drug Use

But Government Report Shows Rise in Abuse of Painkiller OxyContin
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 19, 2005 -- Figures on drug and cigarette use among American teens were mostly flat in 2005, suggesting that improvements seen since the beginning of the decade may be slowing down, a government report showed Monday.

The report was based on surveys of nearly 50,000 U.S students. It showed no significant changes from 2004 in the use of several drugs, including marijuana, sedatives, and prescription stimulants like Ritalin.

Meanwhile, teens' use of the prescription narcotic painkiller OxyContin continued to rise, researchers said.

Overall 15.8% of teens acknowledged using any illegal drug -- including inhalants -- in the past month, down slightly from 2004. Use among high school seniors rose by 1%, while use among sophomores dropped by 1% and use by eighth-graders was unchanged.

"Most declines halted this year," says Lloyd Johnston, PhD, a University of Michigan researcher, known as the Monitoring the Future Survey.

White House Perspective

Despite the flat 2005 figures, Bush administration officials focused on longer-term trends, which show clear reductions in illegal drug use among U.S. teens. Overall, students' use of most drugs -- including marijuana, anabolic steroids, cigarettes, and alcohol -- have dropped 19% since 2001.

The drop translates to roughly 700,000 fewer American students using drugs now than at the beginning of the decade, says John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"We have a broad set of behaviors by young people that are going in a healthy direction," he told reporters.

Officials say they remain concerned about several trends in the report, including a continuing rise in Oxycontin abuse among high school seniors and increasingly common use of widely available but highly toxic inhalants.

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