UM survey: National teenage use of illegal drugs falls

The Detroit News

Teenagers’ use of legal and illegal drugs dropped during the past year and continued declines that have developed during the past few years, according to a national survey by the University of Michigan released Wednesday.

The use of heroin, Ecstasy and amphetamines declined, while marijuana use remained the same, according to the annual Monitoring the Future study. This development occurred as the use of alcohol and cigarettes among 40,000 eighth, 10th and 12th graders fell to their lowest marks since the report started in 1975 and sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About 40 percent of teens in the three grade levels combined imbibed alcohol during the past year, the team of UM researchers reported. About 5 percent of eight-graders, 11 percent of high school sophomores and 17 percent of high school seniors engaged in binge drinking — having five or more drinks in a row at least one time in the prior two weeks.

“The recent peak rate in annual prevalence of alcohol use was in 1997, at 61 percent for the three grades combined. Since then, there has been a fairly steady downward march in alcohol use among adolescents,” said Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator and a UM distinguished senior research scientist. “The rate has fallen by about a third, to 40 percent. More importantly, the percentage who report binge drinking has fallen by half, from 22 percent to 11 percent.”

Part of the reason for the fall in alcohol consumption among teens in the past 15 years is the rise of peer disapproval of binge drinking since 2000, the survey found. Teens also may have less access to wine, beer and hard liquor, researcher said.

“In recent years, there has been a fair decline in all three grades in the proportion saying that alcohol is easy for them to get, with the steepest decline among the youngest teens,” Johnston said in a statement. “This suggests that state, community and parental efforts have been successful in reducing underage access to alcohol.”

Cigarette use by teens also reached an all-time low for the study. The percentage of students who reported smoking in the past month fell from 8 percent to 7 percent.

This is an important development to help teenagers avoid serious illness and live longer, Johnston said.

But the use of illegal drug use also declined. The use of ecstasy and a stronger form of the drug known as “Molly” fell, a trend that had been developing since 2010, according to the UM.

The use of heroin — which the university researchers consider one of the most dangerous illicit drugs — fell in all three grade levels, continuing a gradual decline during the past few years. The rates of heroin use have decreased by more than half during the past decade or longer.

Researchers said they particularly welcomed this decline because it came mostly in taking heroin with a needle, which is considered the most dangerous form of use.