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Survey notes drop in meth use among teens while OTC, prescription drug abuse remains high


WASHINGTON Methamphetamine use among teens appears to have dropped significantly in recent years, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s annual Monitoring the Future survey released Monday. However prescription drug abuse remains high, the survey reported.

The number of high school seniors reporting they used methamphetamine in the past year is now at only 1.2% — the lowest since questions about methamphetamine were added to the survey in 1999, when it was reported at 4.7%. In addition, the proportion of 10th graders reporting that crystal meth was easy to obtain has dropped to 14%, down from 19.5% five years ago.

“We are encouraged by the reduction of methamphetamine use, but we know that each new generation of teens brings unique prevention and education challenges,” stated National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins. “What makes the Monitoring the Future survey such a valuable public health tool is that it not only helps us identify where our prevention efforts have been successful, it also helps us identify new trends in drug use and attitudes that need more attention.”

However, the 2009 MTF survey indicated a continuing high rate of nonmedical use of prescription drugs and cough syrup among teens. Seven of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th graders in the year prior to the survey were prescribed or purchased over-the-counter.

“Findings released [today] on this year’s Monitoring the Future survey speak to the need for continued efforts to educate and empower parents with the information they need to talk to their teens about medicine abuse,” stated Linda Suydam, president of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. “CHPA believes these findings serve as a reminder of the importance of education and talking to teens about the dangers of OTC cough medicine abuse,” she said. “While we are pleased to see that rates of cough medicine abuse have not increased in the past year, consistency is key in the effort to educate teens about the dangers of medicine abuse.”

With regard to prescription medicines, nearly 1-in-10 high school seniors reported past year nonmedical use of Vicodin, and 1-in-20 reported abusing Oxycontin, also a powerful opioid painkiller. Nonmedical use of these painkillers has increased among 10th graders in the past five years.

For the first time this year the survey measured the nonmedical use of Adderall, a stimulant commonly prescribed to treat ADHD. The survey reported that more than 5% of 10th and 12th graders reported nonmedical use of the drug in the past year.

In addition, the survey recently started measuring how teens obtain the prescription drugs they took for nonmedical use. As many as 19% of 12th graders reported they got their drugs by a doctor’s prescription, and 8% reported buying them from a dealer. However, the vast majority — 66% — said they got the drugs from a friend or relative. Of these, 12% reported they “took” them; 21% reported “buying” them and 33% said they were “given” the drugs. Internet purchases do not appear to be a major source of drugs for this age group.

Cigarette smoking was reported at the lowest point in the survey’s history on all measures for eighth, 10th and 12th graders. Only 2.7% of eighth graders describe themselves as daily smokers, down from a peak rate of 10.4% in 1996. Similarly, 11.2% of high school seniors say they smoke daily, less than half of the 24.6% rate in 1997. However, one area of concern is the rate of smokeless tobacco use. The rate of 10th graders using smokeless tobacco in the past month is 6.5%, up from last year and the same as it was in 1999.

The Monitoring the Future survey is a series of classroom surveys of eighth, 10th and 12th graders conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan under a grant from the NIDA.

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