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Teen Drug Use:
Good News and Bad News Revealed in New Report

Illegal drug use among the nation's 8th, 10th and 12th graders is on a steady decline, according to results of the 33rd national survey in the Monitoring the Future series conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

prescription drugs

One in five teens has abused a prescription pain medication. If you keep prescription drugs of any kind in your home, make sure they're in a place where teens can't get to them, or at the very least check them regularly to make sure none are missing.

Only 13 percent of 8th graders reported using an illicit drug at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey, compared with 24 percent in 1996. Meanwhile, 28 percent of 10th graders and 36 percent of 12th graders had used drugs, compared to 39 percent and 42 percent, respectively, in 1997.

However, while use of marijuana, Ritalin and crystal meth declined, certain drugs are holding steady.

Use of cocaine, crack cocaine, LSD, hallucinogens other than LSD, heroin, and most of the prescription-type psychoactive drugs (including sedatives, tranquilizers, and narcotics such as OxyContin and Vicodin) did not decline.

In fact, among high school seniors at least one in 20 have tried OxyContin in the past year, and the percentage of students using Vicodin was 2.7 percent, 7.2 percent and 9.6 percent in 8th, 10th and 12th grades, respectively.

Further, use of ecstasy actually increased this year among 10th graders and 12th graders. The increase, researchers said, may be due to "generational forgetting," in which new groups of adolescents are replacing the previous generation who knew more about the drug's hazards.

As for over-the-counter cough and cold medications that contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan, 4 percent of 8th graders, 5 percent of 10th graders and 6 percent of 12th graders have used them in the past year (the same percentages that used them in 2006).

Prescription Drug Use a Growing Problem

Many teenagers view prescription drugs as somehow safer than illegal ones. They're prescribed by a doctor, after all, so they must be safe. However, the number of kids using prescription drugs to get high or for "self-medicating" purposes is alarming. According to the 2007 Partnership for a Drug-Free America's annual tracking study:

  • 1 in 5 teens has abused a prescription pain medication

  • 1 in 5 report abusing prescription stimulants and tranquilizers

  • 1 in 10 has abused cough medication

How can you tell if your teen may be abusing drugs, prescription or otherwise? Watch for these signs from Parents. The Anti-Drug:

talk to kids about drug use

When talking to your teen about drug use, stay calm and remind them that you LOVE them and want to help.

  • Changes in friends

  • Negative changes in schoolwork, missing school, or declining grades

  • Increased secrecy about possessions or activities

  • Use of incense, room deodorant, or perfume to hide smoke or chemical odors

  • Subtle changes in conversations with friends, e.g. more secretive, using "coded" language

  • Change in clothing choices: new fascination with clothes that highlight drug use

  • Increase in borrowing money

  • Evidence of drug paraphernalia such as pipes, rolling papers, etc.

  • Evidence of use of inhalant products (such as hairspray, nail polish, correction fluid, common household products); Rags and paper bags are sometimes used as accessories

  • Bottles of eye drops, which may be used to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils

  • New use of mouthwash or breath mints to cover up the smell of alcohol

  • Missing prescription drugs -- especially narcotics and mood stabilizers

If you suspect that your teen is using drugs, it's important to act on your suspicion right away. Teens are naturally private about their lives at this age, but you can still confront them about your concerns by:

  • Telling your teen exactly what you're concerned about (did you find drug paraphernalia? Notice a change in their appearance or attitude?)

  • Remaining calm. Avoid accusing your teen, and instead try to understand why your teen is using drugs (ask, "Did you try drugs to fit in with your friends? Or because you are bored or sad?")

  • Letting your teen know that you love him or her.

  • Listening to their responses to your questions.

  • Sharing some of the health consequences of drug use.

Next, you can take steps to curb the drug use by:

  • Asking questions about your teen's life: Where are they going? Who are they hanging out with? What will they be doing?

  • Setting new rules, such as curfews, less time hanging out with friends, less computer use or less cell phone use

  • Encouraging them to join social activities such as sports or other after-school organizations that will help them to meet new people and keep busy.

  • Praising positive behaviors that you notice.

If you need further assistance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration has a substance abuse treatment facility locator that allows you to find help in your area.

Recommended Reading

Study Drugs -- Use of These Dangerous New Drugs is Skyrocketing Among the A+ Student Crowd

Illegal Drugs Identification Chart: What They Look Like & How to Recognize Their Effects


University of Michigan News Service December 11, 2007

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America

Parents. The Anti-Drug

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