January 9th, 2015

Drug Use Trends In 2014

At the beginning of every year, I rely on the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” study to bring me up to date about the most recent trends in substance use among students in middle school, high school, and college. This NIDA funded project surveys 40,000 to 50,000 students in 400 secondary schools as well as 1,100 students enrolled full-time in two- or four-year colleges throughout the U.S. Beginning with high school seniors in 1975, the survey expanded to include college students in 1980 and 8th and 10th graders in 1991 and has become one of the gold standards of drug use surveys. We’re going to explore drug use trends in 2014.

I particularly appreciate the timeliness of the report. Most others are not available for one to two years after the period they are measuring. I will summarize the middle and high school data in this post.

  • Alcohol use continued its long-term decline, after peaking in 1997, and reached its lowest point since the study began in 1975. Binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) and extreme binge drinking (10 or more drinks) also declined. On the other hand, almost 20 percent of 12th graders report binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks.
  • Cigarette smoking also reached “historic lows.” Increases were noted in difficulty in obtaining cigarettes, disapproval of use, and perceived risk – the last being a predictor of future decreases.
  • Declines occurred in the use of illicit drugs, including:
    • Marijuana, which had been increasing for five years, declined slightly. This is good news, given concerns that the opposite would occur with the liberalization of marijuana laws in many states. However, the perceived risk of daily use and disapproval rates also declined, suggesting a possible future rise in use. Interestingly, availability was down among 8thh and 10th graders, but not among 12th graders. Daily use for seniors also declined but remains high at 5.8 percent. This is troubling, given the evidence of negative effects if marijuana is used by adolescents at this frequency.
    • Synthetic marijuana (“K-2,” “Spice”), despite its illegal status, has been sold over the counter in many states in gas stations, convenience stores and head shops. Increased perception of risk and enhanced law enforcement is probably responsible for the decline from a high of 11 percent in 2011 to a level of 6 percent in 2014.
    • “Bath Salts,” a misnomer for a group of synthetic stimulants derived from cathinone and also sold over the counter, declined and is now at less than 1 percent.
    • Ecstasy (MDMA) showed a significant decline, having peaked in 2001 as did salvia and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
  • Continued declines occurred in the use of over the counter cough and cold medicines as well as in prescription drug misuse (including using opioid pain medication, sedatives, tranquilizers, and/or amphetamines without medical supervision).

No drugs increased in use, but many stayed the same, though well below their recent peak levels. These included heroin, crack, methamphetamine and crystal methamphetamine, Ritalin and Adderall as well as LSD, inhalants, powder cocaine, tranquilizers, sedatives and anabolic steroids.

For those interested in still more data, in an upcoming post, I will summarize the information for college-age students as well as for e-cigarettes.

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