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U.S. Teens Turning From Illicit Drugs...

... but many are turning to prescription painkillers to get high, survey finds

THURSDAY, Dec. 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders are using fewer illicit drugs, but their use of prescription painkillers remains disturbingly high.

That's the conclusion of the 2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and released Thursday.

Experts said the results were more or less expected.

"This doesn't surprise me," said Dr. Grant Mitchell, chief of psychiatry at Northern Westchester Hospital Center, in Mount Kisco, N.Y. "As we write more and more prescriptions for potentially legitimate uses for parents, it provides access for kids. They don't have the same need to go out and procure illicit drugs."

The MTF survey has been conducted since 1975 by researchers at the University of Michigan. This year's survey included data from 48,460 students from 410 public and private schools in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades.

Marijuana use over the past month for all three grades declined between 2005 and 2006. Since 2001, past-month use of marijuana declined by almost 25 percent -- from 16.6 percent in 2001 to 12.5 percent in 2006.

The biggest drop -- 36 percent -- was among eighth-graders, followed by a 28 percent decline among 10th-graders and an 18 percent drop among high-school seniors.

Daily smoking in the eighth and 10th grades has stopped declining, but fell from 13.6 percent in 2005 to 12.1 percent in 2006 among 12th-graders. Currently, cigarette smoking in all three grades is at an all-time low.

Past-month use of alcohol also declined.

The good news was partially offset by some less positive findings.

Past-year use of the painkiller Vicodin remained high among all three grades -- nearly one in 10 high-school seniors reported having used the drug during the past year.

Past-year abuse of OxyContin, another painkiller, dropped from 5.5 percent in 2005 to 4.3 percent in 2006 among 12th-graders, but not among students in the other two grades. In fact, use of the drug has increased significantly among the youngest students since 2002.

"Parents need to be aware that medicines prescribed to them and sitting around the house are a source for abuse for kids," Mitchell said.

This year's report included the first national survey on non-medical use of cold or cough medicine, which showed that 4.2 percent of eighth-graders, 5.3 percent of 10th-graders and 6.9 percent of 12th-graders reported taking cold or cough medicine with the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) during the past year to get high. DXM is generally safe when taken in recommended doses but, in large amounts, can cause dangerous side effects, the researchers said.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • Past-year methamphetamine use fell among 10th-graders from 2.9 percent in 2005 to 1.8 percent in 2006; past-month use declined from 1.1 percent in 2005 to 0.7 percent in 2006.
  • Use of inhalants leveled off in 2006.
  • More 12th-graders perceived heroin, sedatives/barbiturates and steroids to be harmful.
  • Fewer eighth-graders perceived the club drug ecstasy to be harmful.

More information

View the full report at Monitoring the Future.

SOURCES: Grant Mitchell, M.D., chief of psychiatry, Northern Westchester Hospital Center, Mount Kisco, N.Y.; 2006 Monitoring the Future survey, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dec. 21, 2006
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