(Washington, D.C.) – Overall illicit drug use among teens ages 12-17 is at a five year low, according to the largest and most comprehensive study of drug use in the United States, released today. But when it comes to youth, nonmedical use of painkillers continues to be an area of concern, with more recent initiates (2.2 million) than any illicit drug, reveals the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
Since 2002, current illicit drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds is down from 11.6 percent (2002) to 9.8 percent (2006), marking a cumulative decrease of 16 percent. In that same time period, current marijuana use also decreased 18 percent (from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 6.7 percent in 2006). The decline in marijuana use was particularly pronounced in male youths, from 9.1 percent in 2002 to 6.8 percent in 2006, or a decrease of 25 percent.
Abuse of prescription drugs among youth, however, continues to be an area of concern. Nonmedical use of painkillers was the illicit drug use category with the largest number of recent initiates among persons aged 12 or older (2.2 million). According to the study, seven million persons aged 12 or older used prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically in the past month. Of these, 5.2 million used painkillers, a 10 percent increase from 2005 (4.7 million). And, among persons aged 12 or older who used painkillers nonmedically in the past 12 months, 55.7 percent reported that they obtained the drugs from “a friend or relative for free.”
“Teens are getting the message about the harms of marijuana and are changing their behavior – for the better,” said John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “However, youth abuse of prescription drugs remains a troubling concern. With prescription drug abuse, we're confronting a different kind of drug threat—one that lurks not in dark alleys, but in medicine cabinets within our homes. Parents have been vital to reducing teen use of street drugs, and now they must engage to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs.”
The Office of National Drug Control Policy conducts the Nation's most visible effort to prevent teen drug use through the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Collaborating with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the Campaign targets youth, particularly those aged 14-16. It also reaches parents, encouraging them to talk to their teens about drugs and monitor their behaviors, actions shown to reduce drug use.
The NSDUH 2006 study reaffirms the important role of parents in keeping their teens drug-free.
In 2006, current use of illicit drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol (including binge drinking) was lower among youths aged 12 to 17 who reported that their parents always or sometimes engaged in monitoring behaviors than among youths whose parents seldom or never engaged in such behaviors. And most youths (90.4%) reported that their parents would strongly disapprove of their trying marijuana once or twice. Current marijuana use was also much less prevalent among youths who perceived strong parental disapproval for trying marijuana once or twice than for those who did not.
Experts encourage parents to recognize that their teens still want their guidance, even if it may seem they are fighting for more independence, and to take action. “While teens' lives are crowded with many different, and often conflicting, messages, this is just further proof that parents matter the most to their teens when it comes to making important decisions,” said Dr. Phillippe Cunningham, professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Family Services Research Center. “The youth trends in prescription drug abuse are troubling, which is another reason why it's so critical for parents to talk to their teens and stay involved in their lives during these critical years.”
Released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the findings of the NSDUH 2006 survey are consistent with another large-scale longitudinal study, Monitoring the Future from the University of Michigan, which also shows an overall decline in teen drug use since 2002.
Since its inception in 1998, the ONDCP's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has conducted outreach to millions of parents, teens and communities to prevent and reduce teen drug use. Counting on an unprecedented blend of public and private partnerships, non-profit community service organizations, volunteerism, and youth-to-youth communications, the Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse backgrounds with effective anti-drug messages.