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Professional News
Teen Drug Use Holds Steady, With Major Exception
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 2 page 13-13

A survey of illicit drug use among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders across the U.S. released last month, showed overall use of illicit drugs to be largely unchanged over the past year. However, one very dangerous illicit drug, the club drug known as Ecstasy (see story below), continues to expand its alarming and often deadly popularity with the nation’s youth.

The 2000 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF), released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), marks the fourth year in a row that the use of any illicit drugs among teenagers has either stayed level or decreased rather than showing the characteristic yearly increases of the early and middle 1990s.

Along with the drug abuse data, which report on 45,000 youths, the survey documented a significant decline in teen cigarette use. Alcohol use, the final component of the survey, remained largely unchanged from 1999 to 2000.

"This year’s survey," said Donna Shalala, HHS secretary, "confirms that teens’ use of marijuana and most other drugs has leveled off and even decreased among younger students. And we’ve also begun to have a positive impact on teen smoking. But we must remain vigilant to new threats, particularly that of the so-called club drugs such as Ecstasy."

"We are greatly encouraged by the results of the MTF survey," said Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "The national drug control strategy is working. We have seen a continued downward trend in overall drug use among youth. Heroin use is down among eighth graders, a good sign for the future and reversing the heroin upsurge of recent years. Cocaine use is down among 12th graders following recent reductions in cocaine abuse in younger ages. However, the increase in Ecstasy use is a cause for concern that needs to be addressed, and the National Youth Media Campaign’s radio and TV ads target this threat."

The National Youth Media Campaign was organized by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) last year as part of a media blitz that included television, radio, print, and electronic (World Wide Web) public service announcements (Psychiatric News, May 5, 2000). The goal of the campaign was to work proactively to educate teens, parents, and school professionals about the dangers of club drugs, including Ecstasy.

"Last year when it was first reported that the use of ‘club drugs’ was on the rise, we proactively launched a special Web site to disseminate reliable, science-based information that almost a half a million people have visited," said Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., director of NIDA. The information is getting out there, but a better job needs to be done to help teens understand the implications of these dangerous drugs, he believes.

"Young people have not yet come to see Ecstasy as a very dangerous drug," said Lloyd D. Johnston, M.D., principal investigator for the MTF survey and senior research scientist at the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "Until they do," Johnston added, "we are unlikely to see the situation turn around."

Johnston noted that in 1999 the survey reported a sharp increase in Ecstasy use among 10th and 12th graders, an increase that continued this year. But this year, a new finding occurred. For the first time, Johnston said, the growing popularity of the drug is now evident among eighth graders as well. The change was quite dramatic; in 1999, 1.7 percent of eighth graders reported using Ecstasy within the preceding 12 months; in the 2000 MTF, 3.1 percent of eighth graders said they had used Ecstasy in the preceding year.

Other findings of the 2000 MTF include a sharp rise in steroid use among both eighth and 12th graders, a decrease in heroin use among eighth graders, the substantial and continuing decline in teen use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, and the relatively stable statistics on alcohol use in teens. Marijuana remains the most widely used illicit drug in the age group with only a modest decline in use by eighth graders. Marijuana use peaked in 1997 for 10th and 12th graders and has not declined significantly since.

The Monitoring the Future 2000 Survey results are posted on the Web at www.monitoringthefuture.org.

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