The National Adolescent Health Information Center (NAHIC) has just released a new fact sheet on Substance Abuse in Adolescents and Young Adults that actually included some good news. Black teens were the least likely to drink and smoke, Asian youth were the least likely to use illicit drugs, and alcohol and cigarette use has declined (slightly) overall since the mid-1990s, while illicit drug use remains about the same.
Now the bad news:
20% of 12th graders smokes cigarettes daily (with white youth leading the charge);
approximately 50% of white and Hispanic 12th graders used alcohol in the past 30 days (with 3 out of 5 12th graders who drink reporting binge drinking); and
initiation of substance abuse occurs between grades 7 and 10.
It is amazing to me that the number of high school students who smoked in the last 30 days has remained stable (between 25% and 35%) since 1975, in spite of numbers of people dying from lung cancer, the lawsuits, the public service announcements, and the health education in schools.
The most disturbing trend reported was the dramatic increase in the use of MDMA or "ecstasy," which doubled among 12th graders between 1996 and 2001 (from 4.6% to 9.2%). The data also reflect what psychologists and researchers have known for a very long time - the kids who are drinking and smoking cigarettes are also the most likely to be using illicit drugs.
This information should tell us all that this would not be the right time to reduce the amount of health education in schools or families. The message about smoking, drug use, and alcohol use is obviously not getting to many teens. Every parent needs to talk to their kids and encourage them to avoid trying cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs.