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Teen Prescription Drug Abuse Continues Increase

By December 26, 2008

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Although the use of illegal drugs is on the decline among the nation's adolescents, the nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs has increased to alarming levels. In the past month, 15.4 percent of high school seniors have used prescription or over-the-counter drugs, according to the latest government statistics.

In fact, seven of the top 10 drugs being misused by high-school seniors are legal prescription or over-the-counter medications.

According to the latest Monitoring the Future Survey of almost 50,000 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade, teens are abusing prescription amphetamines, sedatives, tranquilizers, and the ADHD medication Ritalin, as well as over-the-counter cough medications.

The trend is particularly alarming, because the vast majority of teens who abuse these types of drugs get them from the medicine cabinets in their own homes or from friends, rather than from drug dealers.

Marijuana Remains Most Popular Illicit Drug

There was another disturbing trend shown in the latest survey. The gradual decline in the use of marijuana since the mid-1990s has appeared to slowed. In 2002, 8.2% of adolescents used marijuana compared with 6.7% in 2007. But that number did not keep falling in the past 12 months.

This year's survey reveals that 32.4% of high school seniors, 23.9% of 10th graders and 10.9% of 8th graders have used marijuana.

Of course, the most popular drug used by adolescents remains alcohol. Overall, 15.9% of 8th, 10th and 12th graders drank alcohol in the past month.

Some Good News

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there were some encouraging finding in the 2008 Monitoring the Future Survey, including:

  • From 2007 to 2008, the percentage of 10th graders reporting lifetime, past year, and past month use of any illicit drug other than marijuana declined significantly. Lifetime use decreased from 18.2% to 15.9%, past year use declined from 13.1% to 11.3%, and past month use decreased from 6.9% to 5.3%.

  • Cigarette smoking continues to fall to the lowest rate in the survey's history. Between 2007 and 2008, declines were seen in lifetime, past month, and daily cigarette use among 10th graders.

  • Overall, the use of stimulants declined among 10th graders. Crystal methamphetamine use continues to decline - past year use fell among 12th graders, from 1.6% to 1.1%. Also, past year crack cocaine use declined from 2007 to 2008 among 12th graders, from 1.9% to 1.6%.

"The 2008 survey results reinforce the fact that we cannot become complacent in our efforts to persuade teens not to smoke, drink or abuse illicit substances," said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, in a news release. "As long as young people are being exposed to images that make taking drugs seem glamorous, we need to counter them with truthful messages about the risks and consequences of drug abuse."

The Monitoring the Future survey is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan under a grant from the NIDA.

Read More About the MTF Survey:

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