Illicit drug use among young people dropped by more than 20 percent during
the last five years, according a government-funded survey, but the use of
prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin remains at peak
This is the mixed news from government officials who spoke at a press
conference in Washington, D.C., this past December to discuss the latest
findings from the annual survey.
When extrapolated to population estimates, the data indicate that
approximately 840,000 fewer teens used illicit drugs in 2006 than in 2001,
according to John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control
Policy. "Drug use is associated with the risk of school failure,
unwanted pregnancy, violence, car accidents, and psychological and physical
illness," he said. "The benefits gained [by youth from lower
illicit drug use] during this five-year period will last for the rest of their
The Monitoring the Future study is conducted each year by University of
Michigan researchers who survey a representative sample of about 48,500
eighth, 10th, and 12th graders from 400 secondary schools, both public and
private. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funds the study.
About a fifth (21 percent) of eighth graders, over a third (36 percent) of
10th graders, and about half (48 percent) of 12th graders have taken any
illicit drug during their lifetimes, according to the findings. The
encouraging news, however, is that current use of Marijuana (including
hashish) declined nearly 25 percent for eighth, 10th, and 12th graders
combined from 2001 to 2006. marijuana, the most widely used of the illicit
drugs, showed the fifth consecutive year of decrease among 10th and 12th
graders. For example, marijuana use for seniors dropped from 22.4 to 18.3
percent over the past five years. Among 10th graders, marijuana use fell from
19.8 percent in 2001 to 14.2 percent in 2006.
After declining several years ago, marijuana use has remained steady for
eighth graders—over the past three years, about 6.5 percent of them have
reported current marijuana use.
Officials noted that changes in the overall use of illicit drugs from 2005
to 2006 were not significant for students in any of the three grades
Methamphetamine use declined among 10th graders over the past year. Annual
prevalence rates for 8th and 10th graders were 1.8 in 2006 and 2.5 percent for
12th graders. Since 2001, among all grades combined, current methamphetamine
use has dropped from 1.4 percent to 0.7 percent.
"I'm encouraged by the trend of decreased meth use by young
people," said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. "I believe
that our hard work and some of our innovative approaches have contributed to
trends that we see in this report."
Use of amphetamines, which press reports indicate has been soaring among
adults, has been dropping among teens since peaks in 1996 for eighth and 10th
graders, from 8.1 percent to 4.7 percent and 12.1 to 7.9 percent,
A number of drug usage rates remained steady among all three grades over
the past year, including those for inhalants, LSD, powder cocaine, crystal
methamphetamine, heroin, tranquilizers, anabolic steroids, and sedatives.
Trends over the past five years show decreases in current use for some of
these drugs, such as ecstasy (for instance, 2.8 percent of seniors used
ecstasy in 2001 while just 1.3 percent did last year).
Past-year steroid use among seniors dropped from 2.5 percent in 2002 to 1.8
percent last year, but those levels have remained steady since then. Past-year
use in 2006 among eighth graders was .9 percent and 1.2 percent for 10th
One major area of concern for government officials is the nonmedical use of
prescription painkillers among young people. For instance, past-year Oxycontin
use increased among 12th graders from when it was first measured in 2002 (4
percent) until 2005, when use peaked at 5.5 percent. In 2006, past-year
Oxycontin use among seniors dropped to 4.3 percent.
Among younger students, Oxycontin use reached its highest levels to
date—2.6 percent of eighth graders and 3.8 percent of 10th graders used
it in 2006.
In addition, nearly 1 in 10 seniors had abused Vicodin (9.7 percent) during
the preceding year, according to the survey. Marijuana is the only drug that
surpassed Vicodin in terms of prevalence rates.
Said NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D., "these findings point to the
need to strengthen our campaign against the abuse of prescription drugs. We
still have a lot of work ahead of us."
Use of sedatives also increased steadily over the past decade or so. Among
12th graders, sedative use rose from 2.8 percent in 1993 to 7.2 percent in
2005 but fell last year to 6.6 percent.
In addition, in the 2006 survey researchers asked students for the first
time whether they had abused over-the-counter cough and cold medicines
containing dextromethorphan. It turned out that 4 percent, 5 percent, and 7
percent of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, respectively, abused these drugs in
the past year, according to the study's principal investigator, Lloyd
"These drugs can cause brain damage and death in high doses,"
he noted. "My guess is that young users don't understand the
Findings from the 2006 Monitoring the Future Survey are posted at<www.monitoringthefuture.org/>.▪