Many teens are still abusing prescription painkillers, even as the use of stimulant drugs declined, according to an annual study of teen drug and alcohol use released today.
The 2008 Monitoring the Future Survey, conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan and sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the NIH, surveyed 8th, 10th and 12th graders about their habits regarding drugs and alcohol. This is the 34th year for the study.
Earlier this year, the WSJ reported that an increasing number of young people, dubbed “Generation Rx” by some drug experts, are abusing prescription drugs, especially narcotics such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percoset. Sure enough, the 2008 MTF data show the rates of abuse of these prescription narcotics remain high, with little change in the past six years. (Click on graphic to enlarge chart of most abused drugs.)
Nearly 10% of high school seniors reported using Vicodin for non-medical purposes in the year before taking the survey, while 4.7% reported abusing OxyContin. Both drugs are opioid painkillers.
“It’s a very serious problem,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the Health Blog. “There’s a misconception that these drugs are safer than illicit substances because they are prescribed by doctors.”
Meanwhile, the levels of abuse of over-the-counter cough and cold medications varied by age. Their abuse remained fairly high among 10th graders, since first being tracked in 2006, but fell among 8th and 12th graders.
There was some good news in the survey: The use of some stimulants—amphetamines, methamphetamine, crystal methamphetamine, cocaine and crack—continued a gradual decline. In addition, cigarette smoking among teens is at its lowest rates since the survey started in 1975.
Teen alcohol use has declined since the mid-1990s, though the levels are still pretty high. The 2008 survey showed that the number of 8th and 12th graders who reported that they drank alcohol one or more times in the past year remained fairly steady at about 32% and about 66% respectively. The number of 10th graders who reported alcohol use in the past year fell 3.8% to 52.5%.
The study showed that marijuana use among teens, which has consistently declined since the mid-1990s, appears to have leveled off, with 10.9% of 8th graders, 23.9% of 10th graders and 32.4% of 12th graders reporting using it in the past year. Teen use of several other illicit drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and heroin remained steady.