Abuse of Prescription Drugs, Ecstasy Not Declining
> 12/12/2007 12:10:39 PM

Overall drug use has gradually declined among American teens in recent years, especially among younger teens, but the results of an annual report released this week illustrate that troubling trends persist. Specifically, use of the club drug ecstasy has increased, while the number of students abusing prescription medication remains alarming.

Monitoring the Future
, an annual study that has been conducted since 1975, surveys students in grades 8, 10, and 12. The survey, which includes about 420 schools and 50,000 students each year, records the prevalence of drug use among students as well as students' attitudes toward these substances. In recent years, the surveys have included some promising results. The number of students reporting that they used any illicit drug during the previous year has decreased since 1996, when 23.6% of 8th graders, 37.5% of 10th graders, and 40.2% of 12th graders said they used drugs. Those prevalence rates fell to 14.8% for 8th graders, 28.7,% for 10th graders, and 36.5% for 12 graders in 2006, and the trend has continued in 2007. The current prevalence rates are 13.2%, 28.1%, and 35.9%, although only the decrease among 8th graders was statistically significant.

This year's small decrease in overall drug use has been spurred on by declines in students' use of Ritalin, meth, and crystal meth. Marijuana use has also dropped since last year, although the prevalence rates remain high, with close to one in three high school seniors reporting marijuana use. The prevalence rates for many drugs, including cocaine, crack cocaine, LSD, and heroin, have not changed significantly since last year, but even so the prevalence rates for these drugs are considerably lower than they were during the mid-1990s. In a separate press release, the researchers describe the survey's findings on cigarettes, which indicate that fewer students, especially younger students, smoke cigarettes than was the case in recent years.

The number of students using prescription drugs for reasons other than their prescribed purpose has mostly held steady since last year. Unlike other drugs, however, the abuse of prescription medications has not decreased over time, and the number of students abusing some prescription drugs has even increased. When OxyContin was first included in the study in 2002, 4% of 12th graders reported abusing it during the previous year. In 2007, the prevalence rate had increased to 5.2%. Vicodin has also been widely abused by students, and its prevalence rate has fluctuated since 2002 but not changed much. In both 2002 and 2007, 9.6% of surveyed students reported having abused Vicodin within the past year, a rate second only to that of the most commonly used drug, marijuana.

The report names ecstasy as the only drug to see an increase in use this year. The number of students using ecstasy in 2007 increased slightly since 2006, and the rise was not significant. When viewed together with the reports previous results, however, these small increases are part of a larger, overall increase in ecstasy use among older student. Only 2.4% of 10th graders in 2004 and 3.0% of 12th graders in 2005 used ecstasy, but 2007 saw 3.5% of 10th graders and 4.5% of 12th graders using the club drug. The report's section on students' attitudes toward drug use reveals that as more students use ecstasy, fewer believe that using ecstasy poses a "great risk" to their health. Additionally, fewer students reported disapproving of those who use ecstasy. 8th graders were most likely to display these beliefs, and the researcher surmise that students just now entering high school know less about the dangers of ecstasy than their older peers.

Drug use by American teens is slowly declining, but these results indicate that ecstasy and prescription medications are becoming more and more common among the ones who do use drugs. By knowing where the biggest problems lie, we should be able to spread awareness and make sure that prevention programs illustrate the dangers of using ecstasy and abusing prescription drugs. Hopefully, the use of these drugs will soon also begin to decline.

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