Young People and Drugs

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The Drug Policy Alliance has a series of resources for educators and parents, including a drug education curriculum and tips for talking to teens about drugs.

Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse has been working since the early 1980s to provide honest, effective drug education for young people.

Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

11. Perceived Availability of Drugs Among Young People in the US

"• In 2017, 46% of 8th graders and 63% of 10th graders thought that cigarettes would be fairly easy or very easy for them to get if they wanted some. In 2017 for the first time we asked about availability of cigarettes among 12th graders; 78% reported they would be fairly easy or very easy to get. A growing interest among state and local governments to increase the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of tobacco products suggests that availability may decrease for this age group in the coming years. Prior to 2017 we did not ask 12th graders about the availability of cigarettes because we assumed they were almost universally available to this age group.

"• In 2017 MTF asked for the first time about the availability of vaping devices and e-liquids containing nicotine. In 8th grade the percentage who reported they could fairly or very easily get a vaping device was 44% and for e-liquids with nicotine it was 37%. The respective availability levels in 10th grade were 66% and 61%, and in 12th grade they were 78% and 75%. In all grades these availability levels were similar to the availability levels for cigarettes.

"• The great majority of teens see alcohol as readily available: In 2017, 53% of 8th graders, 72% of 10th graders, and 87% of 12th graders said it would be fairly easy or very easy to get.

"• Drug availability levels are far lower in 8th grade. Even so, marijuana was described as readily available by 35% of 8th graders in 2017, followed by steroids and tranquilizers (both at 12%), amphetamines (11%), cocaine powder and crack (both at 10%), sedatives (barbiturates) and narcotics other than heroin and heroin (both 9%), MDMA (ecstasy, Molly) (8%), crystal methamphetamine (ice) (7%), LSD (6%), and PCP (5%).

"• Marijuana appears to be readily available to the great majority of 12th graders; in 2017, 80% reported that they think it would be very easy or fairly easy to get—far higher than the proportion who reported ever having used it (45%). Marijuana has the highest availability level of all illicit substances in this grade.

"• There is a considerable drop in availability after marijuana, cigarettes, and vaping; the next most readily available class of drugs for 12th graders is amphetamines, with 38% saying these drugs would be very or fairly easy to get, followed by narcotics other than heroin (36%).

"• Between 18% and 29% of 12th graders perceived the following as readily available: MDMA (ecstasy) (29%), hallucinogens other than LSD (28%), cocaine (27%), LSD (26%), sedatives (barbiturates) (23%), cocaine powder (21%), steroids (20%), heroin (19%) and crack (18%).

"• Crystal methamphetamine (ice), tranquilizers, and PCP were reported as readily available by smaller but still substantial minorities of 12th graders in 2017 (14%, 15%, and 11%, respectively)."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

12. Impact of Medical Marijuana Laws on Adolescent Marijuana Use

"Concerns about laws and policy measures that may inadvertently affect youth drug use merit careful consideration. Our study does not show evidence of a clear relationship between legalization of marijuana for medical purposes and youth drug use for any age group, which may provide some reassurance to policymakers who wish to balance compassion for individuals who have been unable to find relief from conventional medical therapies with the safety and well-being of youth. Further research is required to track the trends in marijuana use among adolescents, particularly with respect to different types of marijuana laws and implementation of laws in each state."

Choo, Esther K. et al. (2014), "The Impact of State Medical Marijuana Legislation on Adolescent Marijuana Use," Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 55, Issue 2, p. 160 - 166.
http://www.jahonline.org/artic...
http://www.jahonline.org/artic...

13. Estimated 30-Day Prevalence of Use of Various Drugs for Grades 8, 10, and 12 Combined


Click here for complete datatable of Estimated 30-Day Prevalence of Use of Various Drugs for Grades 8, 10, and 12 Combined in the US, 1998-2016

Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2017). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2016: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, pp. 58-59, Table 3.
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

14. Many Youth Discontinue Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs by the Time They Leave High School

"Among 12th graders, the highest noncontinuation rate is observed for inhalants (69%), followed by MDMA (ecstasy, Molly) and crystal methamphetamine (ice) (both at 47%). Many inhalants are used primarily at a younger age, and use is often not continued into 12th grade. The rank ordering for noncontinuation of other drugs is as follows: methamphetamine, heroin, crack, narcotics other than heroin, tranquilizers, amphetamines, steroids, sedatives (barbiturates), cocaine, cocaine other than crack, hallucinogens, and LSD (all between 34% and 44%).

"• The drugs most likely to be continued include cigarettes (only a 24% noncontinuation rate), marijuana (18%), alcohol use to the point of being drunk (21%), any alcohol use (9%), and smokeless tobacco (22%). Note that several psychotherapeutic drugs are among those with the lowest noncontinuation rates. It is important to recognize, however, that substantial proportions of students who try the various illicit drugs do not continue use, even into later adolescence. (Note: Use of heroin with and without a needle is not included due to very low case counts, and PCP is not included because lifetime use is no longer assessed.)

"• Because a relatively high proportion of marijuana users continue to use marijuana at some level over an extended period, it has consistently had one of the lowest noncontinuation rates in the senior year of any of the illicit drugs (18% in 2017).

"• It is noteworthy that, of all the 12th graders who have ever used crack (1.7%), only about one third (0.6%) report current use and 0.1% of the total sample report current daily use. While there is no question that crack is highly addictive, evidence from MTF has suggested consistently that it is not addictive on the first use, as was often alleged in the past.

"• In contrast to illicit drugs, noncontinuation rates for the two licit drugs are extremely low. Among 12th grade students alcohol has a lifetime prevalence of 62% and an annual prevalence of 56%, yielding a noncontinuation rate of only 9%.

"• Noncontinuation had to be defined differently for cigarettes because respondents are not asked to report on their cigarette use in the past year. The noncontinuation rate is thus defined as the percentage of those who say they ever smoked “regularly” who also reported not smoking at all during the past 30 days. Of the 12th graders who said they were ever regular smokers, only 24% have ceased active use.

"• Noncontinuation is defined for smokeless tobacco much the same way as for cigarettes. It also has a relatively low rate of noncontinuation by senior year – only 22% of lifetime regular users did not use in the past 30 days.

"• In addition to providing 12th grade data, Figure 4-3 presents comparable data on noncontinuation rates based on responses of 8th and 10th graders. As mentioned above, the drugs have been left in the same order as the rank-ordered drugs in 12th grade to facilitate comparison across grades

"• The noncontinuation rates for inhalants are very high and rise with grade level (47%, 62%, and 69% in grades 8, 10, and 12)."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

15. Marijuana Legalization May Lead To Decreased Use By Young People

"Consistent with the results of previous researchers,2 there was no evidence that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages marijuana use among youth. Moreover, the estimates reported in the Table showed that marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes. This latter result is consistent with findings by Dilley et al4 and with the argument that it is more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana as drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.6"

Anderson DM, Hansen B, Rees DI, Sabia JJ. Association of Marijuana Laws With Teen Marijuana Use: New Estimates From the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. JAMA Pediatr. Published online July 08, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1720
https://jamanetwork.com/journa...

16. Perceived Availability of Illicit Drugs and Likelihood of Use Among Youth in the US, 2012

"• Youths aged 12 to 17 in 2012 who perceived that it was easy to obtain specific illicit drugs were more likely to be past month users of those illicit drugs than were youths who perceived that obtaining specific illicit drugs would be fairly difficult, very difficult, or probably impossible. For example, 17.4 percent of youths who reported that marijuana would be easy to obtain were past month illicit drug users, but only 2.9 percent of those who thought marijuana would be more difficult to obtain were past month users. Similarly, 14.4 percent of youths who reported that marijuana would be easy to obtain were past month marijuana users, but only 1.1 percent of those who thought marijuana would be more difficult to obtain were past month users.
"• The percentage of youths who reported that marijuana, cocaine, crack, heroin, and LSD would be easy to obtain increased with age in 2012. For instance, 19.5 percent of those aged 12 or 13 said it would be fairly or very easy to obtain marijuana compared with 50.1 percent of those aged 14 or 15 and 71.0 percent of those aged 16 or 17.
"• In 2012, 13.2 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 indicated that they had been approached by someone selling drugs in the past month. This rate declined between 2002 (16.7 percent) and 2012, although the 2012 rate was similar to the 2011 rate (13.8 percent)."

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013, p. 70.
http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSD...
http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSD...

17. Prevalence of Substance Use Among Youth in the US, by Race/Ethnicity

"For a number of years, 12th grade African-American students reported lifetime, annual, 30-day, and daily prevalence levels for nearly all drugs that were lower – sometimes dramatically so – than those for White or Hispanic 12th graders. That is less true today, with levels of drug use among African Americans more similar to the other groups. This narrowing of the gap between African Americans and other racial/ethnic groups is also seen in 8th and 10th grade, indicating that this narrowing in 12th grade is almost certainly not due primarily to differential dropout rates.

"• Whites have the lowest levels of annual marijuana use in 8th grade, at 7.3% compared to 11.5% and 11.4% for African American and Hispanic students, respectively. In 10th and 12th grade annual marijuana use differs little by race/ethnicity.

"• A number of drugs have consistently been much less popular among African-American teens than among White teens. These include hallucinogens, sedatives (barbiturates), tranquilizers, and narcotics other than heroin. Several additional drugs have historically been less popular among African-American teens but did not show much difference in 2017 among 8th graders, though they still are less popular in the upper grades. These include LSD, ecstasy, cocaine (in recent years), cocaine other than crack, amphetamines, and Vicodin.

"• By 12th grade, White students have the highest lifetime and annual prevalence levels among the three major racial/ethnic groups for many substances, including hallucinogens other than LSD, MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), narcotics other than heroin, amphetamines, sedatives (barbiturates), tranquilizers, alcohol, and been drunk. The differentials for LSD have narrowed considerably in recent years as overall prevalence has declined substantially for this drug. Not all of these findings are replicated at lower grade levels, however. See Tables 4-5 and 4-6 for specifics.

"• Hispanics in 2017 had the highest annual prevalence at all three grade levels for any illicit drug, cocaine, crack, and cocaine other than crack. It bears repeating that Hispanics have a considerably higher dropout rate than Whites or African Americans, based on Census Bureau statistics, which should tend to diminish any such differences by 12th grade, yet there remain sizeable differences even in the upper grades.

"• An examination of racial/ethnic comparisons at lower grade levels shows Hispanics having higher levels of use of many of the substances on which they have the highest levels of use in 12th grade, as well as for several other drugs. For example, in 2017, cocaine other than crack had a lifetime prevalence in 8th grade for Hispanics, Whites, and African Americans of 1.5%, 0.9%, and 0.5%, respectively. In fact, in 8th grade – before most dropping out occurs – Hispanics had the highest levels of use of almost all substances, whereas by 12th grade Whites have the highest levels of use of most. Certainly the considerably higher dropout rate among Hispanics could help explain this shift, and it may be the most plausible explanation. Another explanation worth consideration is that Hispanics may tend to start using drugs at a younger age, but Whites overtake them at older ages. These explanations are not mutually exclusive, of course, and to some degree both explanations may hold true.14

"• Table 4-8 shows that White students have by far the highest prevalence of daily cigarette smoking while African American and Hispanic students are now fairly close to each other among all three grades, for example, 12th grade Whites have a 5.8% daily smoking prevalence, Hispanics, 1.9%, and African Americans, 2.5%.

"• Thirty-day prevalence of smokeless tobacco use is highest among White students in all three grades.

"• African-American students also have the lowest 30-day prevalence for alcohol use in all three grades. They also have the lowest prevalence for self-reports of having been drunk during the prior 30 days. The differences are largest at 12th grade, with 24% of Whites reporting having been drunk, 17% of Hispanics, and 10% of African Americans.

"• Recent heavy drinking (having five or more drinks in a row during the prior two weeks) is also lowest among African Americans in all three grades; in 12th grade, their level of use is 7.7% versus 20% for Whites and 14% for Hispanics. The corresponding prevalence levels for 10th grade are 4.7% for African Americans vs. 11.0% for Whites and 11.3% for Hispanics. In 8th grade, Hispanics have the highest prevalence at 4.9% compared to 3.0% for Whites and 2.9% for African Americans.

"• There are important differences in ADHD treatment related to student race/ethnicity. In general, White students are considerably more likely to have used prescription ADHD drugs at each grade than African American or Hispanic students. Current use of either subclass of drugs (stimulant or non-stimulant) is also substantially higher among White students than among African American or Hispanic students in all three grades, with the exception that these differences are somewhat smaller for non-stimulant drugs in grades 10 and 12. In all three grades, African Americans and Hispanics have lifetime levels of use that are close to each other. However, in 8th grade, Hispanics have a somewhat lower level than African Americans in current use of each class of drugs and of any ADHD drug, while in 10th and 12th grade there is little difference in their use. As to why White students are more likely to be treated with ADHD drugs than African American and Hispanic students, it again may well be due to White families being more likely to get access to, or being able to afford, professional assessment and treatment.

"• Levels of past-year use for diet pills have been lowest for African Americans in all years, and Whites have typically had the highest levels of use, with Hispanics in the middle. In 2017, levels of past-year use were about two times as high for Whites as compared to African Americans, at 5.0% and 2.4% respectively, with Hispanics at 2.6%. These racial/ethnic differences have diminished in recent years as overall prevalence has declined.

"• Levels of past-year use of stay-awake pills are about twice as high for Whites as they are for African Americans and Hispanics, at 2.5%, 1.1%, and 1.3%, respectively. Differences in these groups were larger in past years when overall prevalence was higher. Use of these types of substances has not varied consistently by any of the other subgroup categories."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

18. Young People in the US Report Declining Availability of Marijuana

"Marijuana has been the most consistently available illicit drug and has shown only small variations over the years (see Figure 9-5a). What is most noteworthy is how little change has occurred in the proportion of 12th graders who say that marijuana is fairly or very easy to get. By this measure, marijuana has been readily available to the great majority of American 12th graders (from 80% to 90%) since 1975.

"While variability has been small over the course of the survey, perceived availability of marijuana is at or near historic lows in each grade. In 2017 in 8th grade it was 35% (tied with 2016 for a historic low), in 10th grade it was 65% (the second lowest level recorded by the survey, just above the 2016 low), and in 12th grade it was at 80% (the second lowest level recorded, just above the 2016 low). This decline in perceived availability is somewhat counter-intuitive, given the widespread adoption of medical marijuana laws and recent legalizing of recreational marijuana use for adults in several states."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

19. Availability of Alcohol Among Youth As Measured by Monitoring The Future Study

"Although availability of alcohol among 12th grade students is near its lowest level recorded since first measured in 1999, at 86% it is still very high.

"More substantial changes in the availability of alcohol have taken place among 8th and 10th graders. For 8th graders availability declined from 76% in 1992 to 53% in 2017. For 10th graders availability is down from the peak level of 90% in 1996 to 72% in 2017. This may reflect some success in state and local efforts to reduce access by those who are under age. It is worth noting, however, that even after these declines, alcohol clearly remains available to the majority of teens."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

20. Availability of Cigarettes Among 8th and 10th Graders According To The Monitoring The Future Study

"The perceived availability of cigarettes continued a long-term decline in 8th and 10th grade to historic low levels, with a significant decline in 10th grade. (Availability of cigarettes in 12th grade was first asked this year, so trend data are not yet available). After holding fairly steady at very high levels for some years, perceived availability reported by 8th and 10th graders began to decline modestly after 1996, very likely as a result of increased enforcement of laws prohibiting sale to minors under the Synar Amendment and FDA regulations. The proportion of 8th graders saying that they could get cigarettes fairly or very easily fell from 77% in 1996 to 56% in 2010, and was at 46% in 2017. Over the same interval, the decline among 10th graders was from 91% in 1996 to 63% in 2017. These are encouraging changes and suggest that government and local efforts to reduce accessibility to adolescents—particularly younger adolescents—seem to be working."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

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