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Monday, December 14, 2009

 

Pot and prescription drugs popular among teens

Posted: 10:54 a.m. Dec. 14, 2009

U-M study: Pot, prescription drugs more popular among teens

Numbers drop on binge-drinking and smoking

DAVID N. GOODMAN
Associated Pres

Smoking marijuana is becoming even more popular among U.S. teens and they have cut down on smoking cigarettes, binge drinking and using methamphetamine, according to a national survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders released today by White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

More teens also are getting high on prescription pain pills and attention-deficit drugs, according to the 35th annual “Monitoring the Future” survey of 47,097 students by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The increase of teens smoking pot is partly because the national debate over medical use of marijuana can make the drug’s use seem safer to teenagers, researchers said. In addition to marijuana, fewer teens also view prescription drugs and Ecstasy as dangerous, which often means more could use those drugs in the future, Kerlikowske said.

The “continued erosion in youth attitudes and behavior toward substance abuse should give pause to all parents and policy-makers,” Kerlikowske said.

“These latest data confirm that we must redouble our efforts to implement a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to preventing and treating drug use,” Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in remarks prepared for his speech today at the National Press Club in Washington.

Marijuana use, while well off peak levels of the late 1990s, has edged up. Among this year’s 12th graders, 20.6% said they used it within the past month, compared with 19.4% in 2008 and 18.3% in 2006.

Among 10th graders, pot use in the past month rose from 13.8% in 2008 to 15.9% this year.

“The upward trending of the past two or three years stands in stark contrast to the steady decline that preceded it for nearly a decade,” said Lloyd Johnston, who has directed the annual survey since it started in 1975.

The percentage of eighth-graders who saw a “great risk” in occasionally smoking marijuana fell from 50.5% in 2004 to 48.1% in 2008 and 44.8% this year.

The perceived danger of using Ecstasy once or twice fell among eighth graders, from 42.5% in 2004 to 26% in 2009.

“When the perception of the danger goes down, in the following years you see an increase in use,” said National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow.

Volkow said teens falsely reason it’s less dangerous to get high on prescription drugs “because they’re endorsed by the medical community.” But she said prescription narcotics like OxyContin and Vicodin are highly addictive and can act as gateways to heroin, a cheaper high.

Use rates of both prescription narcotics rose among this year’s 10th graders, with 8.1% saying they had used Vicodin in the past year compared with 6.7% of the same grade in 2008. For OxyContin, the figure rose from 3.6% to 5.1%.

Recreational use of the attention-deficit drug Ritalin was lower than five years ago. But the attention-deficit drug Adderall, appearing for this first time in this year’s survey, showed use rates similar to those for Ritalin at its peak, which for 12th graders was around 5%.

By all measures, alcohol remained the most widely used illicit substance among teens, with 43.5% of 12th graders reporting taking a drink in the past month. That’s a little change from last year, but down from 52.7% in 1997 — a year that showed high percentages of substance abuse. All three grades reported drops in binge drinking for 2004-2009.

Cigarette use patterns showed a continuation of the dramatic drop from a decade ago. In 1997, 19.4% of eighth graders reported smoking within a month. That fell to 6.8% last year and 6.5% this year. The rate for 12th graders dropped from 36.5% in 1997 to 20.1% this year.

“There’s not going to be much further improvement unless policies change,” such as higher taxes to discourage kids on a budget and further limits on public smoking, Johnston said.

Only 2.4% of this year’s 12th graders said they’d ever used methamphetamine, down from 2.8% in 2008 and 8.2% in 1999.


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