Are teen drug use levels improving?

Drug use among our teens is at its lowest level since 1975 according to a report just released by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.teens and drugs

Based upon a survey of 45,473 high school students, “The results show a continued long-term decline in the use of many illicit substances, including marijuana, as well as alcohol, tobacco, and misuse of some prescription medications…”

The use of illicit drugs other than marijuana was at the lowest level since 1975, down to 14.3 percent of high school students compared to almost 18 percent in 2013.

The misuse of opioid pain relievers decreased to 4.8 percent, down from a peak of 9.5 percent in 2004.  In 1996, 22.2 percent of our high school seniors smoked cigarettes daily. Last year, it was only 4.8 percent.  About 56 percent of high school seniors reported drinking alcohol, compared to 75 percent in 1997.

The profile for marijuana use was mixed.  Use among eighth graders has decreased, but remained stable for older students, 24 percent for sophomores and 36 percent for seniors.

It’s not clear what factors are responsible for these overall positive trends.  The research on educational programs like DARE is very mixed. Schools and parents are taking drug usage more seriously, and the significant legal consequences for activities such as drunk driving have had a substantial impact.

While the trends are positive, drug usage remains a serious problem, “…exacting more than $700 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

There are a few particularly disturbing findings. Seventy percent of our high school seniors do not view regular marijuana smoking as harmful. While the use of medical marijuana may prove to be beneficial, it’s scary to think that so many teens don’t recognize the dangers in using chemicals to alter their moods.

The issue isn’t whether smoking pot is safer than drinking alcohol. Both are dangerous for kids, and for many adults. Habits established in adolescence resonate throughout adulthood. Teens need to figure out how to recover from the pain of breaking up with their dating partner, deal with the pressures of school and get along with their parents without using chemicals.

Finally, while the overall trends are extremely positive, the use rates remain high in some areas. Almost 11 percent of our twelfth graders smoked cigarettes in the past month, 33 percent drank alcohol and 4 percent used hallucinogens.

Drug usage is not a victimless activity or an individual decision. These stupid behaviors cost us billions of dollars, kill innocent people in car crashes and other accidents, and require untold medical expenses paid for by society.

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