For the first time in more than a decade, marijuana use is on the rise among teens, according to a federal survey on teen drug use released this week.
The findings indicate teens’ attitudes on how harmful marijuana may be is softening as some states have considered legalizing the drug - or at least have legalized medical marijuana. In addition to marijuana, the study indicates fewer teens view prescription drugs and Ecstacy as dangerous, which could lead to more wide spread abuse in the future, White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske told the Associated Press.
Warren High School sophomore Tylar Kinkade, 16, said she has encountered teen drug and alcohol use since she started high school. The national study indicates about a third of all high school students have used marijuana within the past year.
“Before high school, the worst I ever heard of was someone using rub on a bus,” she said. “That was usually no big deal.”
Today, Kinkade says teen alcohol and drug use is “pretty prevalent.” She said most students don’t consider alcohol or pot as being that dangerous.
“There’s not a lot at school, but on weekends a lot of kids are bored and that’s just what they do,” she said.
The study, based on a survey of roughly 47,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, was conducted by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It indicates past-year marijuana use was 32.8 percent for 12th-graders, 26.7 percent for 10th-graders and 11.8 for eighth-graders.
Marijuana use was thought to have peaked in 1997, when 17.7 percent of eighth-grade students, 34.8 percent of 10th-grade students and 38.5 percent of 12th-grade students reported using the drug at least once within a year of being interviewed.
Warren High School Principal Dan Leffingwell said there has been no detectable increase in drug abuse at the school.
“We have not seen an increase in discipline because of marijuana or drugs in general,” Leffingwell said. “However, the abuse of prescription narcotics is becoming increasingly utilized by teens, and that is our utmost concern.”
Kinkade said on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most dangerous, alcohol would be about a three, marijuana a five and prescription drugs would score a nine.
“We’re taught that all drugs are bad, but when it comes to danger, I think most of us think some are more dangerous than others,” she said.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said youth abuse of alcohol and marijuana has always been a concern.
“That’s because of the gateway possibilities,” he said. “I’ve been in this business a long time. You don’t go from zero to being an addict…. It’s usually and it usually starts with alcohol and marijuana.”
Mincks said education and continued efforts to stop suppliers is key to reducing teen drug and alcohol abuse.
“This is a really tough subject because marijuana and alcohol is out there in our schools right now, and it’s almost a war, and sometimes you really don’t know if you are making any headway or not,” Mincks said.
Right Path for Washington County coordinator Cathy Harper said with fewer treatment facilities available in the area, there has to be more emphasis on prevention.
“If we can convince our children to put off drinking or smoking or using drugs until the age of 21 or beyond, studies show they’ll probably never use or abuse in their lifetime,” Harper said.
“It is important for our kids to have goals. Drugs and alcohol are almost never a part of the plan when there is a goal.”
Among the survey’s findings:
- Recreational use of the attention-deficit drug Ritalin was lower than five years ago. But the attention-deficit drug Adderall, appearing for this first time in this year’s survey, showed use rates similar to those for Ritalin at its peak, which for 12th graders was around 5 percent.
- By all measures, alcohol remained the most widely used illicit substance among teens, with 43.5 percent of 12th graders reporting taking a drink in the past month. That’s a little change from last year, but down from 52.7 percent in 1997 - a year that showed high percentages of substance abuse. All three grades reported drops in binge drinking for 2004-2009.
- Cigarette use patterns showed a continuation of the dramatic drop from a decade ago. In 1997, 19.4 percent of eighth graders reported smoking within a month. That fell to 6.8 percent last year and 6.5 percent this year. The rate for 12th graders dropped from 36.5 percent in 1997 to 20.1 percent this year.