Fewer Teens Abusing Prescription Drugs, MTF Survey Finds

According to the latest Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, fewer teens are abusing prescription drugs. This hopeful trend is just one of many interesting statistics uncovered by the 2014 survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). While the trend is hopeful and positive, there are still many teens misusing prescriptions of all kinds, including the highly addictive and dangerous opioid painkillers, and too many teens are still dying from accidental overdoses.

Thousands of Teens Surveyed

The MTF survey is an annual survey conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan with a grant from the NIDA. It asks questions of over 40,000 public and private school students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades. The survey has provided answers about drug, alcohol and cigarette use among teens since 1975. The usefulness of the survey cannot be understated. It tells us what teens are doing and what their attitudes are toward substance abuse, and it shows trends over time. The data inform research, policies and prevention and education programs.

Fewer Teens Abusing Prescription Painkillers in 2014

The latest MTF survey collected information for 2014 and demonstrated that fewer teens are turning to prescriptions, particularly painkillers, for a high. This is positive news because narcotic painkillers are highly addictive and too often fatal. These painkillers include oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and brand names like Vicodin, Lorcet, Demerol, Percocet and others. They are useful for relieving moderate and serious pain, especially for people whose pain is chronic. However, the drugs also impart a euphoric feeling, which has led to many people abusing them and getting addicted. It is also easy to accidentally take too much of one of these drugs and to die in an overdose.

The downward trend in teens abusing narcotic painkillers is significant. Only 6.1 percent of 12th graders reported having abused one of these drugs in the last year. This is down from 7.1 percent in 2013.This continues a trend that has been heading downward since 2004. That year, we saw a peak of 9.5 percent of high school seniors reporting abuse of prescription narcotics. Use of Vicodin, a popular drug of abuse, tailed off most noticeably. Only five years ago, nearly 10 percent of 12th graders reported abusing it. In 2014 that number was down to under 5 percent.

One type of prescription drug was not abused any less by teens in 2014, although its use only remained steady. About 7 percent of high school seniors are still abusing Adderall and other prescription stimulants used to treat ADHD. Teens often abuse these medications for studying. As stimulants, they induce wakefulness and increase focus and concentration. Many teens abuse them so that they can stay up late to study and write papers and to increase their ability to focus for long periods of time.

Adderall is now the most commonly abused prescription among teens, but not the most commonly abused drug. According to the survey, marijuana still far outpaces any other drug, besides alcohol. More than one-third of high school seniors used marijuana in the last year, while 6 percent report using it every day. The rates of use are consistent with 2013’s survey results.

While the news that fewer teens are abusing prescriptions and that the trend continues to move in that direction is hopeful, there are still important concerns. Overdosing is always a possibility and a risk. A teen can overdose and die using a prescription narcotic even on the first use. Another concern is heroin. When teens get addicted to prescription painkillers, they often turn to heroin, a similar but more dangerous drug, because it is cheaper and sometimes easier to get. Although trends are positive for teens making better choices about these harmful drugs, awareness and prevention efforts are still needed.

Posted on February 7th, 2015

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