THURSDAY, Dec. 11, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- While marijuana and alcohol use has declined among teens, the abuse of painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin has increased, a new report shows.
But, the decline in the use of drugs such as marijuana has stalled after a steady drop in recent years, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse says in its report, Monitoring the Future: National Results on Adolescent Drug Use, which was released Thursday.
"We have seen improvements across many of the substances since the late '90s, but in the last couple of years, particularly this year, we've noticed that those declines have flattened out," said Dr. Wilson M. Compton, director of the Division of Epidemiology Services and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"We are concerned that we need to double down our efforts, because even though there have been improvements, these are still at rates that are high by international standards, and it's really very concerning in terms of the risk to the health of our community in the long run," Compton said.
Compton said that much of the drug use among adolescents is with teens from middle-class white families. "There is a preconception that this is a problem of minority youth, and that is not true," he said.
According to the report, the use of prescription painkillers among high school students remains high, with some 10 percent of seniors saying they used Vicodin and 4.7 percent reporting they used Oxycontin in the past year.
Of the top 10 drugs used by high school seniors, seven are prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines such as cough syrup, the report noted. In fact, 15.4 percent of 12th graders said they used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons last year. "This seems remarkable to me, and very worrisome," Compton said.
Over half the users of these drugs get them from family and friends, Compton noted.
In the past year, drug use among 10th graders of substances other than marijuana declined significantly, from 18.2 percent to 15.9 percent, but among 12th graders the decline in the use of marijuana has slowed.
The use of Ecstasy increased in 2007 among 10th and 12th graders. At the same time, the perceived risk of the drug declined.
Amphetamine use declined among 10th graders. Crystal methamphetamine use among seniors continued to drop in the past year, from 1.6 percent to 1.1 percent. Also, the use of crack cocaine dropped, from 1.9 percent to 1.6 percent among seniors from 2007 to 2008.
While marijuana use consistently declined since the mid-1990s, it appears to have leveled off. In the past year, 10.9 percent of eighth graders, 23.9 percent of 10th graders, and 32.4 percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana, the researchers found.
The survey, which has been conducted for the past 33 years, did find that cigarette smoking among teens is at the lowest rate ever. Also, alcohol use continues to drop slowly, with a significant decline among 10th graders in the past year, from 56.3 percent in 2007 to 52.5 percent in 2008. The decline was seen for lifetime use of alcohol and binge drinking, according to the survey.
Yet, 25 percent of seniors said they had five or more drinks in a row in the two weeks before the survey. And while smoking rates have also dropped, more than one in 10 seniors still smoke and 5.4 percent smoke more than half a pack a day.
The survey also measured attitudes about drugs among teens. Of particular note was the drop in the number of high school seniors who see LSD as harmful and the number of eighth graders who see inhalants as harmful.
This year's survey data was collected from 46,348 students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades in 386 public and private schools. The survey was done by researchers from the University of Michigan.
Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, thinks the report provides data that can be used by drug prevention programs.
"This report provides a rich array of data characterizing the trends in drug use," Katz said. "In many cases, such as tobacco, the trends are favorable. In some, such as heroin, they are stable, and the use of a drug known as Ecstasy actually increased over the period of study."
Overall, nearly half of high school students will have tried an illegal drug before graduation, Katz said. "Progress has been made, but there is clearly work left to do."
Prevention and education campaigns can do a better job if they target the specific drugs that are popular at a given time, Katz said. "By doing this, and keeping the list of culprits perennially current, we might more effectively avoid the movement from one drug to another," he said.
For more on drug abuse, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.