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Starting The New Year On A Positive Note: NIH’s 2017 Monitoring The Future Survey

College students walking together smiling

Our kids are getting the message!

Like you, my readers, I find myself simultaneously worrying and hoping much of the time. With constant exposure to essential information regarding opioid use in America, it can be difficult to feel optimistic. Well here is some good news to start off the New Year!

There is ample reason for our country to celebrate this New Year, as one reviews the recent findings of the 2017 Monitoring The Future Study, This study clearly reflects the ability of our youth to make healthy decisions when they are guided by the attention of adults in leadership positions, providing them with accurate information regarding drugs and decision-making skills.

College students walking together smiling

Our Prevention Programs are working.

At a recent teleconference I attended led by Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director, I learned adolescent tobacco use is at an all-time low since 1979.

Dr. Johnson of the University of Michigan, the Principal Investigator of this study for 42 years, stated that there has been a “tremendous decline in cigarette smoking since the mid-90s, the most prevalent cause of preventable death and disease in America.” Dr. Volkow also noted significant decreases in alcohol and pain-medication use.

Reasons For Celebration

  • Alcohol consumption among school-age children has shown a significant decrease, especially binge-drinking;
  • High School Seniors reflect an historic low in pain-medication use, with past year use among 12th graders declining from 9.5 % in 2004, to 4.2 % in 2017;
  • Reported heroin and methamphetamine use remain very low….at less than 0.5%;
  • An historic low amongst high school seniors of Oxycontin, decreased by 50% since 2005;
  • Non-medical use of Ritalin among 12th graders is at a record low since 2001;
  • Hookah smoking has dropped for the second year in a row.

Reasons For Concern Going Forward

While these gains have been hard-won over time by the development of effective prevention and education programming for students, parents, and the general public, this deserved affirmation of our efforts must always be balanced by the nature of the many threats to our school-age children that remain.

Vaping, with a “ground-zero” of 2006, has very rapidly transitioned from a nicotine cessation device to a delivery system for nicotine, flavoring and THC. Approximately 1/3 of 12th graders report past year use of a vaping device. Dr. Volkow warns that vaping for some teens has become an introduction to nicotine. Dr. Volkow is advocating that “we intervene with evidence-based efforts to prevent youth from using these products.” Youth who vape are likely to use nicotine, which begins to present a threat to progress being made regarding smoking. Vaping THC usually involves very high levels of concentration, which is likely to cause brain impairment/addiction more rapidly.

Marijuana use continues to be reason for concern. The survey reports that:

  • Past year marijuana use (three grades combined) is up from 22.6 % to 23.9%;
  • Significantly fewer teens now disapprove of regular marijuana use;
  • 7% of 12th graders in states with medical marijuana laws report consuming edibles, compared to 8.3% in states without such laws.

Each new cohort of adolescents needs to be taught and nurtured anew, guided through a developmental period that is both replete with wonder, challenge and opportunity, but also fraught with vulnerability to the development of Substance Use Disorder. We, as adults, parents and leaders cannot let them down. We owe it to them and to their children to conclusively shape their environment in ways that encourage healthy development and decision making, and the opportunity to thrive.

We know how to accomplish this. We have been learning for a long time now.

Let’s make 2018 a pivotal year in our country!

Check out the link to the 2017 Monitoring The Future Survey, with a short summary video featuring Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director.

Ed Baker is a Licensed Alcohol/Drug Counselor and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Aspenti Health’s Education Specialist. Ed has practiced psychotherapy with individuals with Substance Use Disorder for over 30 years in both inpatient and outpatient private practice settings. Ed researches and reports on subjects related to psychoactive drugs and use trends, substance use disorder, treatment, and recovery. Ed himself is in personal recovery from addiction for 33 years.

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