Teen Drug Abuse Declines Across Wide Front

Eleven Percent Reduction Exceeds President’s Two-Year Goal

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy, today released results of the 2003 Monitoring the Future survey, showing an 11 percent decline in drug use by 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students over the past two years. The finding translates into 400,000 fewer teen drug users over two years.

When President Bush released his first National Drug Control Strategy in February, 2002, he set aggressive national goals to reduce youth drug use by 10 percent in two years and 25 percent in five years. Today’s release of the 2003 Monitoring the Future Study confirms that President Bush’s two-year goal has been exceeded. Current use (past 30 days) of any illicit drug between 2001 and 2003 among students declined 11 percent, from 19.4 percent to 17.3 percent. Similar declines were seen for past year use (11%, from 31.8% to 28.3%) and lifetime use (9%, from 41.0% to 37.4%).

“Teen drug use has reached a level that we haven’t seen in nearly a decade” said Director Walters. “This survey shows that when we push back against the drug problem, it gets smaller. Fewer teens are using drugs because of the deliberate and serious messages they have received about the dangers of drugs from their parents, leaders, and prevention efforts like our National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Having fewer youth use drugs is important because we know that if young people can abstain from drugs before they graduate from high school, they are much less likely to use and have problems with them later.”

“This survey offers promising signs that more children and young adults are steering clear of illegal drugs,” HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. “Monitoring the Future confirms that prevention efforts by federal agencies, states, communities and our many partners in the private and volunteer sectors are having the desired effect. We are pleased to have exceeded the President’s two-year goal and look forward to a continued and needed reduction in drug use in the coming years. We must now lengthen our stride as we seek to reach the young people who are still putting their health and futures at risk.”

Use of marijuana, the most commonly used illicit drug among youth, declined significantly. Current use declined 11 percent, from 16.6 percent to 14.8 percent; past year use also declined 11 percent, from 27.5 percent to 24.5 percent; and lifetime use declined 8.2 percent, from 35.3 to 32.4 percent. The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a comprehensive federal effort to provide drug prevention messages to America’s children, was reworked in 2002 to produce harder-hitting ads that have focused on the harms of marijuana. Of the 7.1 million Americans that need drug treatment – 19 percent of which are youth 12-17 — over 60 percent need treatment for marijuana. The Media Campaign has been a powerful tool in this effort to educate Americans, particularly teens, on the serious threat marijuana poses.

In addition to measuring usage rates, Monitoring the Future also measures student attitudes about drugs. Among all three grades, the perceived risk of using marijuana increased markedly. Exposure to anti-drug advertising (of which, the Media Campaign is the major contributor) has had an effect on improving youth anti-drug attitudes and intentions, Director Walters said. In the Monitoring survey, youth attitudes among all three grades are found to be to a “great extent” or “very great extent” less favorable toward drugs, and students say the ads they have seen make them less likely to use drugs in the future. The increase in negative attitudes toward drug use corresponds with the course of the Media Campaign, launched in 1998. More than half of the increase in these outcomes among all three grades has occurred in the past two years. This is particularly striking among 10th graders, the primary target audience of the Media Campaign.

Monitoring the Future also showed significant declines in the use of other drugs. The use of LSD and ecstasy among youth has plummeted. Lifetime use of LSD fell 43 percent between 2001 and 2003 (from 6.6% to 3.7%) and past year and current use each dropped by nearly two-thirds (from 4.1% to 1.6% and 1.5% to 0.6%, respectively). Lifetime use of ecstasy dropped 32 percent, from 8.0 percent to 5.5 percent. Past year and current use were each cut in half (from 6.1% to 3.1 percent and 2.4% to 1.1%).

“The overall reduction in drug use by America’s young people is heartening,” said National Institute of Drug Abuse Director, Dr. Nora Volkow. “We are confident that our concerted effort to provide students and teachers with informative, accurate information about addiction and drug abuse will contribute to further reductions in drug use.”

“Monitoring the Future has been tracking substance use and related attitudes among American teenagers for nearly thirty years,” said Lloyd Johnston, the study’s lead researcher. “Because its methods have been scientifically rigorous, and intentionally held constant across time, its results have proven to be quite accurate and reliable.”

In addition, lifetime and current use of cigarettes declined among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders between 2001 and 2003. Lifetime alcohol use by all three grades also declined over the past two years, suggesting that teens do not trade one intoxicating substance for another.

The Monitoring the Future survey is designed to measure drug, alcohol, and cigarette use and related attitudes among adolescent students nationwide. Survey participants report their drug use behaviors across three time periods: lifetime, past year, and past month. Overall, 48,467 students from 392 public and private schools in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades participated in this year’s survey. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a component of HHS’ National Institutes of Health, and conducted since its inception by the University of Michigan. Information from this survey helps the nation to identify potential drug problem areas and ensure that resources are targeted to areas of greatest need.

Monitoring the Future is one of three major HHS-sponsored surveys that provide data on substance use among youth. Its website is monitoringthefuture.org.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), sponsored by HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is the primary source of statistical information on illicit drug use in the U.S. population 12 years of age and older. Formerly known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the survey collects data in household interviews, currently using computer-assisted self-administration for drug-related items. More information is available at http://www.drugabusestatistics.samhsa.gov.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), part of HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, is a school survey that collects data from students in grades 9-12. The survey includes questions on a wide variety of health-related risk behaviors, not simply drug abuse. More information is available at www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/index.htm.

More information on Monitoring the Future can be found at www.hhs.gov/news; or www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov

Additional details are also available at www.drugabuse.gov/DrugPages/MTF.html.

Source: Press Release NIDA December 2003

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