While opioid overdose rates remain high among adults, American teens are misusing opioid pain medications less than they did a decade ago. That’s the good news from the 2017 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders in schools nationwide. The bad news? More kids are “vaping” – and they’re not really sure what’s in that mist that they’re inhaling.
The MTF is based on research conducted annually by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - part of the National Institutes of Health - along with scientists from the University of Michigan.
The fact that one in three 12th graders report vaping in the past years raises red flags for health experts.
“We are especially concerned because the survey shows that some of the teens using these devices are first-time nicotine users,” said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA. “Recent research suggests that some of them could move on to regular cigarette smoking, so it is critical that we intervene with evidence-based efforts to prevent youth from using these products.”
The research suggests that many teens do not actually know what is in the device they are using, and even if they read the label, not all labeling is consistent or accurate. When asked what’s in the vaping devices they use, 51.8 percent of 12th graders said, “just flavoring,” 32.8 percent said “nicotine,” and 11.1 percent said “marijuana” or “hash oil.”
The researchers found that the use of hookahs and regular cigarettes is declining and teen misuse of opioids is at a historic low. Last year, misuse of the opioid pain reliever Vicodin among high school seniors dropped to its lowest point since the survey began measuring it in 2002, and it is now at just 2 percent. This compares to last year’s 2.9 percent, and reflects a long-term decline from a peak of 10.5 percent in 2003.
Some drugs are harder to get
In overall pain medication misuse, described as “narcotics other than heroin” in the survey, past year misuse has dropped significantly among 12th graders since its survey peak in 2004 — to 4.2 percent from 9.5 percent. Interestingly, teens also think these drugs are not as easy to get as they used to be. Only 35.8 percent of 12th graders said they were easily available in the 2017 survey, compared to more than 54 percent in 2010.
“The decline in both the misuse and perceived availability of opioid medications may reflect recent public health initiatives to discourage opioid misuse to address this crisis,” added Volkow. “However, with each new class of teens entering the challenging years of middle and high school, we must remain vigilant in our prevention efforts targeting young people, the adults who nurture and influence them, and the health care providers who treat them.”
The 2017 survey also confirms the recent trend that daily marijuana use has become as, or more, popular than daily cigarette smoking among teens, representing a dramatic flip in use between these two drugs since the survey began in 1975. In the past decade, daily marijuana use among 12th graders has remained relatively consistent, but daily cigarette smoking has dropped.