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Downward Trend in Teen Marijuana Use Slows; Prescription Drug Abuse Remains High

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Brief Description:

There are signs that the ongoing decline in teen marijuana use in recent years has stalled; however the downward trend in cigarette and alcohol use continues, according to the 2008 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey.


Balintfy: The Monitoring the Future survey—now in its 33rd year—indicates that marijuana use among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders, which has shown a consistent decline since the mid-1990s, appears to have leveled off. But roughly 11 percent of eighth graders, 24 percent of tenth graders, and 33 percent of twelfth graders still reported marijuana use in the past year.

Volkow: These are still very unacceptably high numbers.

Balintfy: Dr. Nora Volkow is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Volkow: Because a significant portion of high school students take marijuana. And it’s also one of the drugs that then predicts utilization of other types of drugs.

Balintfy: The 2008 Monitoring the Future survey also shows a continuing high rate of prescription drug abuse among teens, with little change seen in the past six years. Nearly 10 percent of seniors reported past year nonmedical use of Vicodin, and 4.7 percent report abusing Oxycontin. Both are powerful opioid painkillers. Dr. Volkow points out that seven of the top 10 drugs abused by twelfth graders in the year prior to the survey, were prescribed or purchased over-the-counter.

Volkow: We have not been able to make a dent in the patter of the use of these drugs. Even though in the past five years we’ve seen significant decreases, that is not the case for prescription medications.

Balintfy: There are some bright spots in the survey—among them, that cigarette smoking is at the lowest rate in the history of the survey. And there continues to be a gradual decline in alcohol use in all grades.

Volkow: Still—so this is very good news—but still, the rate of smoking which is ten percent in tenth graders, daily smoking, and the rate of drinking behavior, which is 25 percent, regular drinking behavior, is unacceptably high. So you can take it both ways: It’s very good news, vis-à-vis the patters the trends, but it’s still not a situation where we can become complacent. We still have a lot of prevention work to do.

Balintfy: Dr. Volkow reminds that tobacco and alcohol use by teens has devastating related heath costs. Experts are also concerned by what they see as softening of attitudes about some drugs: In particular a continuing decline among twelfth graders who perceive use of LSD as harmful. Similarly, the proportion of eighth graders who perceive inhalants as harmful has declined, as has their disapproval of inhalant abuse. For more on the survey and the dangers of teen drug abuse, visit This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

Date: 12/19/2008

Reporter: Joe Balintfy

Sound Bite: Dr. Nora Volkow

Topic: teen, marijuana, drug abuse


This page was last reviewed on December 19, 2008 .
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