Teen drug use other than marijuana falls to new lows
Fewer US teens are using illegal drugs other than marijuana than ever before, according to an annual study that tracks substance abuse.
The study — released Tuesday by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — found that students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades from private and public high schools across the country have reported the lowest rates of use of inhalants, heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol, cigarettes and synthetic cannabinoids since the start of the survey in 1975.
“What we’re seeing this year — which actually repeats what we saw last year — was significant decreases in the patterns of illicit substances across all ages: 8th, 10th and 12th, except actually for the use of marijuana among 12th graders, where the levels have been stable as it relates to the yearly, the monthly and the regular use,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said. “Those have not changed.”
Among eighth-graders surveyed, however, Volkow said the use of marijuana in the past year has gone down significantly, falling to 9.4 percent from 11.8 percent in 2015, while rates for sophomores and seniors remained stable compared to last year at 23.9 percent and 35.6 percent, respectively.
Richard Miech, a research professor at the University of Michigan and a senior investigator in the 2016 “Monitoring the Future” survey, said there seems to be a change in attitudes toward marijuana, especially among young people.
“The main theme across all the findings is the decline in drug use, but marijuana among 12th graders has stayed constant,” Miech told The Post. “There seems to be a big shift in attitudes toward marijuana and the idea is that it’s moving toward being seen as a fun, recreational drug as opposed to a dangerous one.”
Miech cited public opinion polls that found more than half of US voters — 60 percent — now support legalizing marijuana, a finding reported by Gallup in October. In 1969, when Gallup first posed that question, just 12 percent of Americans supported legalizing marijuana. Miech said that trending sentiment, combined with more states choosing to legalize or decriminalize the drug, may be behind the steady rates.
“That might be sending a message that the teenagers are receiving that marijuana is actually not dangerous,” Miech told The Post.
Overall, there was no change among 12th-graders in daily use, with 6 percent of students saying they smoked pot every day — about the same rate as in 2010, according to the survey.
Meanwhile, just 4.8 percent of high school seniors said they smoke cigarettes daily, down from 22.2 percent in 1996. And the number of teens who used e-cigarettes or hookahs declined for the first time since the rise of vaping just a few years ago, according to the survey, including a 3 percent drop in high school seniors using e-cigarettes, the most common vaping device.
“What we found is there’s a slight increase of perceived risk of using those devices,” Miech said of e-cigarettes. “I think perceived risk plays a role, but it’d be difficult to say exactly what’s behind the decline. Maybe it’s becoming less novel?”
Miech said vaping had previously been growing at exponential rates among teens, from near-zero levels in 2011, to become one of the most common forms of adolescent substance abuse last year.
Robin Koval, CEO and president of the Truth Initiative, a public health organization advocating tobacco-free lives, said the report “fuels” the group’s momentum and puts the finish line in the fight against smoking within sight.
“Despite the relentless efforts and deep pockets of Big Tobacco, young people aren’t buying it — literally,” Koval said in a statement. “There is one key piece of data, however, that is cause for concern. Although promising, the rate of smoking among 12th graders did not show a significant decline and was twice the rate of 10th graders, suggesting that the real risk is once kids are legal or near-legal age. More work needs to be done to limit the industry’s efforts to recruit this age group, such as raising the legal age of sale to 21, to ensure this is the generation to end smoking and tobacco use for good.”
Other key findings from the survey:
- Past-year use of MDMA is at its lowest point for all three grades in the survey’s history.
- The rate of non-medical use of opioid pain relievers among 12th-graders was 4.8 percent, down significantly from its peak of 9.5 percent in 2004.
- Tobacco use with a hookah is down to 13 percent among high school seniors, a decrease from 22.9 percent just two years ago.
- 55 percent of seniors said they drank alcohol in the past year, compared to a peak rate of 75 percent in 1997.
- Binge drinking among eighth-graders now stands at 3.4 percent, the lowest rate since the survey began questioning on the topic in 1991.
- 20.5 percent of 10th-graders said they’ve been drunk in the past year, compared to a peak of 41.6 percent in 2000.