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Today, I’m joining educators across the U.S. to kick off National Drug Facts Week by offering up my own shout-out for educating teens about drug abuse. Sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Drug Facts Week is an official health observance designed to shatter the myths and spread the facts about drug abuse and addiction. To learn more about today’s “CyberShoutout” in support of National Drug Facts Week, checkout Sara Bellum Blog.
My discussion today will start off with a brief understanding of the world of drugs. Then I will delve deep into current data that looks at the prevalence of illegal drug use in the U.S. and current research that will take us to some interesting places. By the end of the article, I hope to provide insightful knowledge that teens can use to prevent illicit drug and alcohol use.
When discussing drugs, it’s best to understand that they can be categorized into four groups (image courtesy of David McCandless of Information Is Beautiful). It’s interesting to note that Cannabis falls right in the center as the “Super Drug,” and that Alcohol is categorized as a “Depressant.”
Now, what is the prevalence of illicit drug use by teens? Recent data (2007) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that:
- 8.0% of persons 12 years of age and over have used illicit drug in the past month.
- 5.8% of persons 12 years of age and over have used marijuana use in the past month.
- 2.8% of persons 12 years of age and over have used a psychotherapeutic drug (for non-medical use) in the past month.
Also, a report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy found that even though there is a “significant downturn in usage levels, they remain at high levels and it has been shown that the earlier drug use is initiated, the more likely a person is to develop drug problems later in life.” It goes without saying that there are a number of health effects that can undermine a teen’s academic performance, peer and family relations, and even lead to increased chances of juvenile delinquencies. In relation to excessive alcohol consumption and marijuana use, a recent report published in the January 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (summary found HERE) found that “drinking during adolescence alters normal developmental processes in a way that negatively impacts learning and social adjustment into adulthood.” In other words…alcohol consumption is associated with BRAINDAMAGE! To learn more about U.S. trends for teen illicit drug use, please visit the following LINK.
I want to share three pieces of research that have been conducted this year.
- Let’s debunk the belief that marijuana is the gate-way drug. First off, I do want to make it clear that “marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among youth in the United States;” and interestingly the use of marijuana has “decreased from 27% in 1999 to 21% in 2009″ as reported by the CDC. However, researches from the University of New Hampshire (published an article in Journal of Health and Social Behavior, summary found HERE) found that life factors such as employment status, stress, and a teenager’s race/ethnicity are stronger predictors, than marijuana use, of whether they will use illicit drugs. These same researchers are using their findings to urge policymakers to consider stress and life-course intervention to reduce the U.S. drug problem. Researchers also indicate that Non-Hispanic whites show the largest odds of illicit drug use, then Hispanics, and finally African Americans.
- Now, let’s discuss alcohol consumption. The second paper I found ranks alcohol’s harm (in relation to other drugs) by using a scale developed by drug experts at the Imperial College of London. Based on “nine criteria of harm, ranging from the intrinsic harms of the drugs to social and healthcare costs,” alcohol placed the highest, above heroin and crack, as being the most harmful substance. If you think about it, alcohol is easily accessible and, like tobacco, can be legally purchased (if you are of age). The CDC claims that alcohol is “used by more young people in the United States than tobacco or illicit drugs;” that in excess “is associated with approximately 75,000 deaths per year;” and “among youth, the use of alcohol and other drugs has been linked to unintentional injuries, physical fights, academic and occupational problems, and illegal behavior.”
- Lastly, what about teens abusing the use of non-medical prescription drugs? Even though it may not be as common as illicit drug and alcohol consumption, abuse of prescription drugs is associated with the potential transition to other drugs, engagement in problem behaviors (e.g., gambling), increased sexual behavior, and impulsivity as indicated by a recent cross-sectional, population-based survey study (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine). Furthermore, researchers concluded that prescription drug use is more common amongst rural teens than city teen, but found no difference in rates of illicit drug use.
Overall, it’s obvious that illicit drug and alcohol abuse by teens is a public health concern that cannot be ignored. Teens are an interesting “breed of humans,” if you will, and adults should acknowledge the fact that teens are willing to change if we give them the opportunity to be heard. Therefore, policymakers, community leaders, educators, and parents must involve teens if change is to be realized.
-Ali Al-Rajhi, MPH of the Public Health Bugle