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Health & Parenting

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Study: Mixed Results in Teen Drug Use

Abuse of Illicit Drugs Drops, but Prescription Drug Abuse Still High
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 11, 2007 -- Drug use edged up in American 10th- and 12th-graders but dropped in eighth-graders over the last year, according to data released by the White House Tuesday.

About one in 14 eighth-graders said they'd used an illegal drug within the last month, down 0.7% from 2006. At the same time, the number of 10th- and 12th-graders acknowledging drug use edged up since last year, according to the annual study, called the Monitoring the Future Survey.

While the study shows a slowdown in progress against adolescent drug use, trends in that use are down significantly since the peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The White House pointed to a 24% reduction since 2001 in the percentage of school kids who say they've taken illegal drugs in the past month.

That led the White House to declare near-victory on its drug reduction strategy Tuesday.

In a White House speech, President Bush said his call to cut adolescent drug use by 25% yielded "promising results."

"Because Americans took action, today there are an estimated 860,000 fewer children using drugs than six years ago," the president said during a White House speech. Those reductions took six years, slightly longer than the five years Bush had aimed for in early 2002.

Rx Problem Remains

The study shows that since 2002, teens have shown less interest in nearly every major drug of abuse, including marijuana, methamphetamine, and alcohol.

But policy makers remain concerned about OxyContin and other prescription narcotics, which have not seen significant drops since 2002. Bush called the trend "troubling."

In September, John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said continuing high abuse of prescription drugs threatened to undermine progress against other drugs in both children and adults.

"There has been during the five-year period an increase and a stubborn resistance to decline by prescription drug abuse," Walters told reporters Tuesday.

Other Findings

Among the annual survey's other findings are:

  • A significant drop in smoking by eighth-graders but no drop by 10th- and 12th-graders since 2006. Fourteen percent of high school sophomores and nearly 22% of seniors say they've smoked in the past month.
  • A slight drop in drinking in all three grades, though nearly one-third of seniors say they've been drunk in the past month.
  • An uptick in ecstasy use. Slightly more seniors say they've used ecstasy than said so last year, though overall numbers are half what they were in 2000.

In an interview, Lloyd Johnston, PhD, the study's lead author, attributed dropping drug use trends to teens' stronger perception that drugs are harmful.

"When youngsters come to see a drug as more dangerous, they turn away from it," said Johnston, PhD program director at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

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