Teenagers continue to lead the way in reducing drug use problems in the U.S. The latest Monitoring the Future report of substance use by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders documents several positive developments. The best news is the continued decline in binge drinking and the misuse of tranquilizers and prescription opioids. The opioid decline is particularly relevant when combined with the absence of any increase in the already low use of heroin. Hopefully, this indicates that the nation’s escalating opioid use problem may finally be slowing. This finding fits with our experience at Kolmac where the surge of young adults with opioid addiction has subsided. The Monitoring the Future authors suggest that an earlier cohort of high school students, unaware of the danger presented by the opioids, may have experimented more freely with them and became addicted helping to feed what has been called an epidemic of opioid use.
More good news is that the use of all other substances, while not declining, remained at historic lows. These include marijuana, non-binge alcohol use, cocaine, methamphetamine including MDMA (also known as ecstasy), and hallucinogens.
I was particularly interested in the lack of any increase in marijuana use because the previous year had seen the first increase in several years. That 2017 finding had raised the concern that the liberalization of many state laws, which makes marijuana more available, was finally having a negative consequence on youth. This development would be particularly worrisome in that some of the use is daily and there is now evidence that such heavy use takes a negative toll on brains that are still developing. Because the liberalization trend is expected to continue, the area of teen use will remain an area of important focus.
Unfortunately, not all of the news is good. Last week I wrote about the alarming increase in vaping of nicotine [Link to last week’s blog]. Also worrisome is that vaping devices are now being used for marijuana. The Monitoring the Future study began measuring the vaping of marijuana in 2017 and found that it had increased significantly in all age groups in 2018.
For those readers who would like more details about all of the substances studied and the patterns of use by all three age groups over the past 3 years, I would suggest this graphic overview from NIDA.