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Study: High School Students Drinking, Smoking Less

Study: High School Students Drinking, Smoking Less

The University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Study, an annual survey tracking teen drug abuse among 8th-, 10th,- and 12th- graders, shows a continued decline in the misuse of prescription drugs and cough/cold medicines on behalf of U.S. high school students.

Among high school seniors, there is a statistically significant decline in any prescription (Rx) drug misuse (including narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers and/or amphetamines) between 2013 and 2014, from 16 percent to 14 percent now saying they used one or more Rx drugs in the 12 months prior to the survey. In addition, abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines declined among all groups surveyed, with annual prevalence declining from 4.0 percent to 3.2 percent for all three grades combined.

"While OTC cough medicine and prescription drug numbers show progress, there is still much more we can do, and must continue to do, to stop the flow of young lives into risk," said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

The 2014 MTF survey of approximately 40,000 to 50,000 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades also showed a decline in the abuse of narcotic drugs other than heroin:

  • Use of narcotic drugs other than heroin on behalf of 12th- graders surveyed dropped from 7 percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2014.
  • In the past 12 months, use of OxyContin (a narcotic analgesic) declined in all three grades. Reports of use in the past 12 months stand at 1.0 percent in grade 8; 3.0 percent in grade 10; and 3.3 percent in grade 12.
  • Past-year use of Vicodin showed a significant five-year drop, with 4.8 percent of 12th- graders using the opioid pain reliever for non-medical reasons, half of what it was in 2009.

By contrast, past-year non-medical use of Adderall, an Rx stimulant often prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, (ADHD) remained relatively steady, at 6.8 percent for high school seniors. The MTF survey continues to show that most teens obtain medicines from family and friends or and some even misuse and abuse their own prescriptions.

In addition to the findings on prescription medication and cough medicine misuse and abuse, the study showed a decrease in the use of alcohol, cigarettes and other illicit drugs as well. In fact, this year's survey shows that both alcohol and cigarette use in 2014 are at their lowest points since the study began in 1975. All three grades showed a decline in the proportion of students reporting any alcohol use in the 12 months prior to the survey, and all three grades combined dropped from 43 percent to 41 percent – a significant change.

Article by Daniel B. Kline, Education World Contributing Editor

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