This week, Monday, January 22nd, through Sunday, January 28th, is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. While the media is full of gloomy and disturbing reports about the use of heroin and opioids having reached epidemic proportions, there is some good news.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funds an annual survey designed to track trends in substance use by adolescents. The study is conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Their 2017 findings were released in the Monitoring the Future (MTF) report and note some encouraging trends.
Adolescent Overall Drug Use Declines
Every year, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders at hundreds of public and private schools across the country are surveyed anonymously about their attitudes toward substance use and about their actual use of illicit and prescription drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Researchers found the misuse of most substances, including opioids and other prescription drugs, heroin, and tobacco products to be at their lowest levels ever. Alcohol use, which had been trending downward since peak levels in the mid-1990s, plateaued in 2017.
These findings suggest that prevention interventions, policies and programs are helping to minimize drug experimentation among this most vulnerable population. The study also found a perception among teens that opioids are no longer easily accessible. While the overall decline is indeed good news, there continue to be areas of serious concern.
Increased use of Marijuana, Vaping and Inhalants
The use of marijuana has edged up as adolescents see less risk or harm in using it. Legalization in some states is a contributing factor. Since 2009, marijuana has been more widely used than cigarettes among students in the survey.
Vaping a variety of substances is growing in popularity. Vaping devices include e-cigarettes, e-pipes, vape pens and other electronic vaporizers. Nearly 28% of high school seniors reported vaping. When asked what they vaped, responses were: “just flavoring,” “nicotine,” “marijuana” or “hash oil.” Researchers point out that teens often don’t really know what is in the device they are vaping, and that labels are not always reliable. Toxic chemicals could well be part of the mix.
The use of inhalants (sniffing of glue, solvents, gasses or sprays) increased in 2017 to nearly 5%, returning to 2015 levels. The number had dropped to under 4% in 2016.
Prevention Programs Essential
While teens seem more aware of the risks associated with opioids, alcohol and cigarettes, they do not appear to realize the dangers of marijuana, vaping, and inhalants. Researchers urge that “with each new class of teens entering the challenging years of middle and high school, we must remain vigilant in our prevention efforts targeting young people, the adults who nurture them and influence them, and the health care providers who treat them.”
For more information on NIDA’s Monitoring The Future survey results, go to:
The University of Michigan press release can be found at:
For information on substance abuse, go to:
If you or someone you know needs help for a substance use problem, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
This is a FREE, 24/7, 365-day, referral service to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations.