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Increases in youth drug use lead to assault on marijuana messages

December 15, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Anti-drug leaders worry over less perceived risk from use

National anti-drug leaders this week left no doubt as to where they placed the blame for increases in marijuana use rates in the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey, stating that media messages about marijuana legalization and medical uses are complicating drug prevention efforts.

“And with public officials and the media constantly talking about legalizing marijuana or medicinal marijuana, it’s no wonder more young people are daily pot smokers,” said Gen. Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA).

Added Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), “All this talk about marijuana being medicine is incorrect and it’s sending youth the wrong message. We need parents and other adults who influence children as full partners in teaching young people about the risks and harms associated with drug use, including marijuana.” The Monitoring the Future study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan with funding support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), measures substance use prevalence and attitudes about substances among 8th, 10th and 12th graders. The 2010 survey, released Dec. 14, showed increases in most measures of marijuana use among all three age groups. Daily use of marijuana jumped to 6.1 percent among 12th graders, up from 5.2 percent in 2009. The daily use rate among 10th graders was 3.3 percent (up from 2.8 percent a year earlier) and the daily use rate among 8th graders was 1.2 percent (up from 1 percent in 2009).

Also, among both 10th graders and 12th graders the perception that regular marijuana smoking causes harm declined in the past year. Less than half of high school seniors in this year’s survey (46.8 percent) agreed that regular use was harmful, compared with 52.4 percent in 2009. “We should examine the extent to which the debate over medical marijuana and marijuana legalization for adults is affecting teens’ perception of risk,” said NIDA director Nora D. Volkow, MD. “We must also find better ways to communicate to teens that marijuana use can harm their short-term performance as well as their long-term potential.”

The survey also documented increases in use of Ecstasy, and continuing problems with nonmedical use of prescription drugs among young people. Interestingly, the drug with the most widespread prevalence of use—alcohol—showed some decreases in use in the survey. Among 12th graders, both overall drinking and binge drinking rates declined from 2009 to 2010. Past-year alcohol use dropped from 43.5 percent to 41.2 percent, while binge drinking declined from 25.2 percent to 23.2 percent.