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Drug, Alcohol Use Falls Among US Teens

FILE - Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles, July 11, 2014.
FILE - Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles, July 11, 2014.

American teenagers are using fewer forbidden drugs and less alcohol, according to a newly released survey.

The results of the survey “show a continued long-term decline in the use of many illicit substances, including marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco, and misuse of some prescription medications, among the nation’s teens,” according to a news release.

The 2016 Monitoring the Future annual survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, and surveys students in eighth, 10th and 12th graders.

For eighth graders, the survey found they have the lowest use of illicit drugs in survey history.

With the exception of marijuana, drug use was down for all ages in the survey.

For eighth graders, the survey found that marijuana use “dropped significantly” in 2016 with 5.4 percent having used it in the past month compared to 6.5 percent in 2015. Daily use was down from 1.1 percent to 0.7 percent.

For 12th graders, 22.5 percent reported monthly marijuana use and six percent reported daily use. Those numbers were similar in 2015. Marijuana use among 10th graders also remained stable, the survey found.

"Clearly our public health prevention efforts, as well as policy changes to reduce availability, are working to reduce teen drug use, especially among eighth graders," said Nora Volkow, director of NIDA. "However, when six percent of high school seniors are using marijuana daily, and new synthetics are continually flooding the illegal marketplace, we cannot be complacent. We also need to learn more about how teens interact with each other in this social media era, and how those behaviors affect substance use rates."

With marijuana increasingly legal in the U.S. for both medical and recreational use, the survey found that 38.3 percent of 12th graders in states with medical marijuana laws reported using marijuana in the past year. That was five percent higher than in states with no legal medical marijuana.

Cigarette use saw a large drop in all three grades, furthering a long-term decline. In 1991, 10.7 percent of high schoolers said they smoked a half-pack of cigarettes a day or more. That number is 1.8 percent in the 2016 survey.

Researchers point to anti-smoking campaigns as well as policy changes for the drop.

Alcohol use among teens also dropped, the survey found. But 37.3 percent of 12th graders reported being drunk over the past year. That was down from 53.2 percent in 2001.

Despite the ongoing opioid crisis afflicting millions of Americans, teen use of prescription opioids is declining. For 12th graders, there was a 45 percent drop in the number of users from five years ago, with 2.9 percent of seniors saying they’d used Vicodin over the last year, down from 10 percent 10 years ago.

"It is encouraging to see more young people making healthy choices not to use illicit substances," said National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli. "We must continue to do all we can to support young people through evidence-based prevention efforts as well as treatment for those who may develop substance use disorders. And now that Congress has acted on the president's request to provide $1 billion in new funding for prevention and treatment, we will have significant new resources to do this."

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