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News and Notes   |    
NIDA Survey Finds Higher Rates of Teen Drug Use in 2010
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi:
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Copyright © 2011 by the American Psychiatric Association.

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In 2010 the proportion of eighth-graders who reported using an illicit drug in the past 12 months jumped to 16%, up from 14.5% in 2009. Past-year use of an illicit drug was 30% for tenth-graders and 38% for 12th-graders in 2010. The increases were fueled by higher rates of marijuana use, according to the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF). In 2010 daily use of marijuana was reported by 6.1% of high school seniors, 3.3% of tenth-graders, and 1.2% of eighth-graders, compared with 2009 rates of 5.2%, 2.8%, and 1.0%, respectively. The MTF is an annual series of classroom surveys of eighth-, tenth-, and 12th-graders conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Declines in cigarette use among high school seniors, along with increases in marijuana use, have put marijuana use ahead of cigarette smoking by some measures. For example, past-month use of marijuana was reported by 21.4% of high school seniors in 2010, compared with 19.2% who reported smoking cigarettes in the past month.

“These high rates of marijuana use during the teen and pre-teen years, when the brain continues to develop, place our young people at particular risk,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment, and motor skills, but research tells us that about one in six people who start using it as adolescents become addicted.”

The downward trend in cigarette smoking has stalled in all three grades after several years of significant improvement. Marketing of other forms of tobacco prompted the addition of two measures to the 2010 survey for 12th-graders—past-month use of small cigars (23.1%) and of tobacco smoked with a hookah pipe (17.1%).

Prescription drug abuse remains a major problem. Although past-year abuse of Vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) decreased among 12th-graders to 8%, down from around 9.7% for the past four years, other indicators confirm that nonmedical use of prescription drugs remains high. For example, past-year use of oxycodone, another prescription opiate, stayed about the same for 12th-graders, at 5.1% in 2010. Six of the ten drugs most frequently abused by 12th-graders in 2010 were prescribed or purchased over the counter.

In 2010 binge drinking continued its downward trend. Among high school seniors, 23.2% reported having five or more drinks in a row during the past two weeks, down from 25.2% in 2009 and from the peak of 31.5% in 1998. Recent findings also show a drop in high school seniors' past-year use of flavored alcoholic beverages, from 53.4% in 2009 to 47.9% in 2010. Past-year use of flavored alcohol by eighth-graders was at 21.9%, down from 27.9% in 2005.

The MTF also measures teen attitudes about drugs. The perception that regular marijuana smoking is harmful decreased among tenth-graders, from 59.5% in 2009 to 57.2% in 2010, and also among 12th-graders, from 52.4% in 2009 to 46.8% in 2010. Disapproval of smoking marijuana also decreased significantly among eighth-graders.

A total of 46,482 students from 396 public and private schools participated in this year's survey. Additional information on the MTF, along with comments from Dr. Volkow, can be found at www.drugabuse.gov/drugpages/MTF.html.

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