Adolescent Drug Trend Survey Reports Decrease of Opioid Use

by Chris Clancy

December 15, 2017

In the midst of the ongoing opioid epidemic, a nationwide survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that misuse of prescription-issued opioids among teenagers has declined in 2017, continuing a downward trend that has been happening for more than a decade.

Prescription opioid use among twelfth-graders in 2017 fell by half a percent to 4.2 percent, putting it at a level of less than half the 9.5 percent prevalence measured in 2004. Heroin use—often the “go-to” drug for adults once the opioid prescription runs out—remained low, with a use prevalence of 0.4 percent among eighth, tenth, and twelfth-graders.

The results come from the 43rd annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, released December 14. Designed and conducted by research scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the survey measures drug use among 45,000 eighth grade, tenth grade, and twelfth-grade students across 380 public and private secondary schools.

Alcohol, which has seen on a slow decline regarding adolescent use since the 1980s, saw a leveling off in 2017. Binge drinking was reported by four percent of eighth-graders, 10 percent of tenth graders, and 17 percent of twelfth-graders. “This is the first time this has happened in many years and may herald the end of long-term decline in adolescent alcohol use,” the survey’s researchers said in their report.

Marijuana Use Up Across All Grades

Marijuana use among adolescents also increased in 2017, across all grades. This marks the first increase in marijuana use in seven years. Overall, past-year adolescent use of marijuana saw a prevalence of 10.1 percent among eighth-graders (a 0.8 percent increase from 2016), 25.5 percent among tenth-graders (a 1.6 percent increase from 2016), and 37.1 percent among twelfth-graders (a 1.5 percent increase).

While opioid use declined and alcohol use did not increase, use of inhalants—including sniffing glue and huffing gases or sprays—increased significantly among eighth-graders in 2017, marking the end of a long decline that started in 2008. The percentage of eighth-graders reported to have used inhalants increased 1.2 percent to 8.9 percent, while use in the past years increased 0.9 percent to 4.7 percent. MTF predicted this increase in past annual reports, as the perception of risk from using inhalants had been on the decline since 2010.

Adolescent use of inhalants represent an anomaly among illicit drug use, the survey said, because it is more common among younger than older adolescents.

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