On Monday the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) gave us some good and bad news. “The report says cigarette smoking was at the lowest point in the survey’s history on all measures for eighth, 10th and 12th graders,” NIDA reported on December 14, 2009. ‘For example, only 2.7 percent of eighth graders describe themselves as daily smokers, down from a peak rate of 10.4 percent in 1996.”
“Similarly, 11.2 percent of high school seniors say they smoke daily, less than half of the 24.6 percent rate in 1997.” The survey commissioned by NIDA is named the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study.
Nevertheless, NIDA goes on to reveal that “Marijuana use across the three grades has shown a consistent downward trend since the mid-1990s, however, the decline has stalled, with rates at the same level as five years ago.”
Full disclosure: This writer’s drugs of choice have been nicotine and caffeine for about the last 35 years. Having made that admission, dare I suggest that the zeal of the tobacco abolitionists may have been misplaced and Nancy Reagan may have been onto something with her “Just Say No To Drugs” campaign?
“In the 2009 survey, reported past year marijuana use was about the same as the previous year: 32.8 percent of 12th graders, 26.7 percent of 10th graders, and 11.8 percent of eighth graders,” NIDA reveals. “However, marijuana use is still down significantly from its peak in the mid-late 1990s.”
“The MTF survey also measures teen attitudes about drugs, including perceived harmfulness, perceived availability, and disapproval, which are often harbingers of abuse.”
Unfortunately, these omens are not good. “For example, the percentage of eighth graders who view occasional marijuana smoking as potentially harmful is down to 44.8 percent, compared to 48.1 percent last year and 57.9 percent in 1991,” according to NIDA. “The 2009 Monitoring the Future survey is a warning sign, and the continued erosion in youth attitudes and behavior toward substance abuse should give pause to all parents and policymakers,” Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said. “Considering the troublesome data from other national and local surveys, these latest data confirm that we must redouble our efforts to implement a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to preventing and treating drug use.”
Moreover, although hard drug use is down, prescription drug reliance is not. “The 2009 MTF survey indicates a continuing high rate of non-medical use of prescription drugs and cough syrup among teens,” NIDA relates. “Seven of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th graders in the year prior to the survey were prescribed or, purchased over the counter.”
“Nearly 1 in 10 high school seniors reported past year non-medical use of Vicodin, and 1 in 20 reported abusing Oxycontin, also a powerful opioid painkiller. Non-medical use of these painkillers has increased among 10th graders in the past five years.”
Indeed, Vicodin is so strong that physicians prescribe it for serious injuries that involve intense pain and Oxycontin is so powerful that terminal patients get it.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.