Addiction and recovery
By Bob Gaydos
Good news and drugs. It’s not a typical pairing in most people’s minds. Right now, for example, the United States is trying to come to grips with what many are calling an epidemic of deaths due to heroin overdoses tied to opioid addiction. The attorney general of the United States recently cited this serious reality in asking Congress for permission to prosecute states which have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This kind of political exploitation tends to confuse issues and make the bad news sound even worse. So I went looking for some good news.
It didn’t take long to find and it came, if you will, from the horse’s mouth, which is to say, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, which are part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The government.
Since 1975, the NIDA has been conducting the Monitoring the Future Survey, which tracks drug use and attitudes among eighth, tenth and 12th graders in the United States. Its most recent report was released in December of 2016. It contained quite a bit of good news.
According to the NIDA: “Use of many substances is at its lowest level since the survey’s inception (1975), including alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, inhalants, and sedatives (reported only by 12th graders). Other illicit drugs showed 5-year declines, including marijuana (among 8th and 10th graders), synthetic cannabinoids (K2/herbal incense, sometimes called "synthetic marijuana"), prescription opioids (reported in the survey as "narcotics other than heroin"), hallucinogens, amphetamines, and over-the-counter cough and cold medications.”
And on that national epidemic, here’s NIDA again: “Despite the continued rise in opioid misuse and overdose deaths among adults, past-year misuse of prescription opioids has continued to decline among high school seniors. Over the past 5 years, misuse has dropped 45 percent, from 8.7 to 4.8 percent. Heroin use remains very low, with past-year use reported by 0.3 percent in all grades.”
Bottom line, in a lot of ways an increasing number of adolescents are getting the message to do what Nancy Reagan suggested years ago regarding drugs -- just say no.
Of course, it took a little more to achieve these results than just telling teenagers to not do something because it could be harmful to their health. The all-time low levels of use of tobacco and alcohol surely are a reflection in part of federal laws that a) required states to raise their ages for purchase and public possession of alcohol to 21 or lose 10 percent of their federal highway funds (it worked) and b) banned cigarette and tobacco advertising on TV and radio, required warning labels on the packages and regulated product placement and ads in stores. It took a concerted, community effort, in other words.
That effort continues with regard to tobacco, as Hawaii in 2015 led the way to raising the age for purchase of tobacco to 21. More than 100 cities and counties, including New York City, Suffolk and, recently, Orange County have also adopted the policy. Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah have set the legal age at 19.
These legislative efforts were accompanied by well-publicized campaigns that heightened awareness of the numerous health risks associated with smoking and drinking -- especially at a young age -- and the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Stiffer DWI laws accompanied the raised drinking age in many states, again, a reflection of communities coming to terms with an unhealthy situation, discussing options and taking steps to remedy it. These positive actions and attitudes by adults are not lost on children and are passed on through generations, just as the negative ones are.
In response to the current opioid epidemic, law enforcement agencies have cracked down on over-prescription of pain-relief medicines and stricter regulations have been put in place to monitor their use. In addition, many communities have formed action groups to provide information about the abuse of prescription pain medicines and heroin, as well as other drugs. Such efforts increase awareness of the issue -- including the fact that help is available -- and tend to reduce the shame that prevents many who are suffering from addiction from seeking help.
As with the changes in drug and alcohol use among adolescents reported in the latest Monitoring the Future Survey, these attitudes and actions could certainly carry through generations. That would be more welcome positive news.
From the 2016 survey
-- Marijuana: Among both 8th and 10th graders, daily marijuana use decreased over the past 5 years from 1.3 to 0.7 percent and from 3.6 to 2.5 percent, respectively. Among 12th graders, 6.0 percent continue to report daily use -- that’s about 1 in 16 high school seniors. Among all grades, the perception of risk associated with smoking marijuana regularly continues to decline, with only 31.1 percent of 12th graders reporting that regular marijuana use is harmful compared to 58.3 percent in 2000. However, disapproval among 12th graders remains somewhat high, with 68.5 percent saying they disapprove of smoking marijuana regularly.
-- Alcohol: The percentage of high school students who reported ever using alcohol dropped by as much as 60 percent compared to peak years. This year’s survey found that 22.8 percent of 8th graders reported ever trying alcohol, a 60 percent drop from a peak of 55.8 percent in 1994. Among 10th graders, lifetime use fell by 40 percent from 72.0 percent in 1997 to 43.4 percent this year. Among 12th graders, there was a significant 25 percent drop in lifetime alcohol use from 81.7 percent in 1997 to the current 61.2 percent.
Monitoring the Future is an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults. Each year, a total of approximately 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students from more than 300 schools are surveyed (12th graders since 1975, and 8th and 10th graders since 1991). The survey is funded by the NIDA, a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and conducted by the University of Michigan.
For more information about the Monitoring the Future survey: