School Climate & Safety

Federal Study Finds Modest Drop in Drug Abuse By Teenagers

By Christina A. Samuels — December 21, 2006 3 min read
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Illicit drug use among teenagers, as well as alcohol use and smoking, showed a modest decrease from 2005 to 2006, according to a federally financed survey of nearly 48,500 public and private school students nationwide.

“Monitoring the Future,” a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and underwritten by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows that abuse of illegal substances continued a decade-long decline. The survey is given to a sample of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

Read a press release highlighting the findings of the 2006 “Monitoring the Future” survey. Additional figures and data tables are also available.

However, the decline in “annual prevalence”—the percentage of students who say they have used illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes in the past year—shows a decrease that is only statistically significant when examining the groups as a whole, not for a particular grade. About 14.8 percent of 8th graders, 28.7 percent of 10th graders, and 36.5 percent of 12th graders said they had used illicit drugs in the past year, according to the 2006 survey, compared with 15.5 percent, 29.8 percent, and 38.4 percent of students in those respective grades who were surveyed last year.

During a press conference here announcing the results, federal officials focused on the decline in drug use between 2001 and 2006, which showed a 23 percent drop in the percentage of students reporting drug use in the previous month. President Bush set a goal of a 25 percent drop in that time period, said John D. Walters, the director of the White House office of national drug-control policy, “and we almost hit the president’s goal exactly.”

Mr. Walters attributed the decline to the efforts of his office to reach both children and parents and discuss the dangers of drug use. “Talking about right and wrong and the danger makes a difference,” he said. “We have not always done this,” he noted, saying that failure explained why the percentage of teenagers using drugs rose during the mid-1990s.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales also hailed the results, noting the decrease in the proportion of students who said they had used methamphetamines in the past 30 days, from 1.4 percent in 2001 to 0.7 percent in 2006. “Today’s survey gives us hope,” he said during the press conference.

Prescription Drugs Holding Ground

The White House drug-control-policy office’s undertakings have been criticized, however. Westat Inc., a Rockville, Md., research firm, and the University of Pennsylvania evaluated the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which received $1.4 billion from fiscal years 1998 through 2006. The evaluation concluded that even though parents and youths remembered the media campaign, it had little to no effect on young people’s drug use.

The Westat report was criticized by the drug-control-policy office as being “fundamentally flawed” when it was released in February 2005. The anti-drug media campaign has changed and is tested for effectiveness by his office, Mr. Walters said.

Despite signs of progress, the survey points out some areas of concern. Lloyd D. Johnston, the principal researcher for the “Monitoring the Future” study, noted that abuse of prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, remained at essentially the same levels since 2002, the first year the survey asked about those types of drugs.

In 2002, 4 percent of seniors had abused Oxycontin and 9.6 percent had abused Vicodin in the past year. In 2006, the percentages were 4.3 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively.

This year was also the first time the survey requested information on the abuse of dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant sold over the counter that has hallucinogenic effects when taken in large doses. In 2006, 4.2 percent of 8th graders, 5.3 percent of 10th graders, and 6.9 percent of 12th graders reported taking dextromethorphan to get high.

“This is now an area of drug abuse we need to pay attention to,” Mr. Johnston said.

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