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Professional News
Repeated Ecstasy Warnings Drive Down Use of Drug
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 3 page 6-44

In light of widespread media accounts about the severe consequences of Ecstasy use, an increasing number of U.S. teens are thinking twice about experimenting with the drug. In fact, peak usage rates dropped as much as 50 percent since 2001 among 10th and 12th graders, according to the results from the 2003 Monitoring the Future Survey.

The findings from the annual survey were released at a press conference in December in Washington, D.C.

Researchers began conducting the survey in 1975 to measure self-reported drug, alcohol, and cigarette use among teens.

Survey results showed that the percentage of the students reporting Ecstasy use in the 2003 survey dropped by nearly half since 2001.

Ecstasy use among 10th and 12th graders rose gradually from 1998 until 2001, when 6.2 percent of 10th graders and 9.2 percent of 12th graders reported using the drug. By the 2003 survey, just 3 percent of 10th graders and 4.5 percent of 12th graders reported using the drug in the past year.

The study’s principal investigator, Lloyd Johnston, Ph.D., attributed the decrease to a growing realization by teens that the drug is dangerous. "It now appears that teens are finally getting the word about Ecstasy’s potential consequences, probably due to the extensive media coverage of the issue and concerted efforts by several organizations active in educating young people about the dangers of Ecstasy," he said in a press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, credited drug-prevention campaigns such as the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign for helping to alert adolescents to the dangers of drug use. "This survey shows that when we push back against the drug problem, it gets smaller," Walters said in the December press release

Researchers found an overall decrease in any illicit drug use for all three grades over the past two years—from 19.4 percent in the 2001 survey to 17.3 percent in 2003, which translates into 400,000 fewer teen drug users.

The latest survey found that other forms of drug use also dropped:

• Marijuana and hashish use declined for the second consecutive year for high school students and for the seventh consecutive year for eighth graders. About 13 percent of eighth graders surveyed reported using one or both, down from 15.4 percent in 2001. Tenth graders’ use dropped from 32.7 percent in 2001 to 28.2 percent in 2002. Marijuana use among seniors dropped only from 36 percent to 35 percent during that time.

• LSD use has been declining in all three grades since 1996, but drops have been the greatest over the last two years. In 2001, 6.6 percent of seniors reported using LSD during the previous year, compared with 1.9 percent in 2002.

• Smaller decreases were noted for 10th and 12th graders who reported using amphetamines (almost 11 percent of 10th graders used amphetamines in 2001, compared with 9 percent last year) and tranquilizers (7.7 percent of seniors used the drug in 2002 compared with 6.7 percent in 2003).

• About 5 percent of seniors used cocaine and 1 percent used heroin over the last two years.

• Nonprescription use of oxycodone showed insignificant increases for all grades between 2002 and 2003; In the 2003 survey, 1.7 percent of eighth graders, 3.6 percent of 10th graders, and 4.5 percent of seniors reported using the drug during the preceding year.

Although teen smoking dropped dramatically through the mid-1990s, those declines are losing momentum, Johnston noted. Among eighth graders, the prevalence of current smoking, defined as smoking one or more cigarettes in the preceding month, fell by only half of 1 percent last year, from 10.7 percent to 10.2 percent.

Cigarette use by 10th graders dropped from 17.7 percent to 16.7 percent, and for seniors, smoking rates dropped from 26.7 percent to 24.4 percent for the most recent year. "Even with [these] improvements," Johnston said, "we still have a quarter of our young people who are actively smoking by the time they leave high school, which is an unacceptably high rate for a behavior that so endangers their health and reduces their life expectancy."

Alcohol use for teens remained relatively steady over the past two years—almost half of seniors surveyed (47.5 percent) reported current alcohol use.

More information about the 2003 Monitoring the Future Survey is posted online at http://monitoringthefuture.org/.

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