The use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco is declining among middle- and high-school students in the United States, according to an annual survey of more than 40,000 youngsters.
Both alcohol and cigarette use in 2014 were at their lowest points since the Monitoring the Future study began in 1975. While the use of other drugs among American teenagers declined from the previous year, they did not reach record lows, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Michael Botticelli, acting head of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement that the latest findings “reinforce the need to continue efforts on prevention, treatment, and recovery.”
The NIDA funded the 40th annual study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan and released in December. The federal agency, part of the National Institutes of Health, said it was encouraged on several fronts but also highlighted areas of concern.
For example, the use of electronic cigarettes – measured for the first time in the new report – is high among teens, ranging from 8.7% of eighth-graders to 16.2% of 10th-graders and 17.1% of 12th-graders.
The nicotine in so-called e-cigarettes is vaporized and inhaled, rather than smoked. The possible health effects of e-cigarettes remain unclear, as is the question of whether teenagers who use these products are more likely to begin using conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.
Reductions in the use of tobacco can have huge implications for healthcare management professionals. Smoking is the No. 1 preventable killer, causing an estimated 443,000 deaths each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating smoking-related diseases costs $96 billion annually.
More teens in each of the three grade levels reported using marijuana than reported smoking cigarettes, and NIDA officials noted that “there continues to be a changing of attitudes about the perceived risk of harm associated with marijuana use.” About 16% of seniors said occasional marijuana use places the user at great risk, a significant drop from the 27% reported five years ago.
In what appears to be a reflection of the nation’s changing legal landscape, 40% of 12th-graders who reported trying marijuana in the previous year while living in states that allow medical marijuana said they consumed the drug in food products. Just 26% of seniors living in nonmedical marijuana states reported similar ingestion.
Another concern identified by researchers: The percentage of high school seniors who perceived a risk of harm from regularly taking prescription amphetamines fell from 69% in 2009 to 55.1% in 2013. Such trends, according to NIDA, may signify that amphetamine use is set to increase in the coming years.
On the plus side, the report noted a continuing decline in abuse of over-the-counter drugs, such as the painkiller Vicodin. Researchers also highlighted a five-year decrease in alcohol use, including a drop in binge drinking among all three grades. The activity, defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a row, dropped to 12% from a high of 22% in 1997.
In a statement, Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator, welcomed the good news in the 2014 report but cautioned that “the problems of teen substance use and abuse are still far from going away.”