Teen substance abuse continues to decline, national survey finds

Teen alcohol and drug use rate shows a big decline in 2016.

"This is somewhat surprising", Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which commissions the survey, told U.S. News & World Report.

In 1991, almost 11% of high school seniors smoked a half pack of cigarettes or more a day. Among teens, only 4.8 percent of high school seniors have tried pain killers in 2016, dropping from 9.5 percent in 2004, and just 0.3 percent said they had tried heroin. That's down by almost half from the high in 1991, when 67 per cent of high school students had consumed alcohol.

In addition, the researchers found that marijuana use was more common among 12th graders who are living in states where medical marijuana is legal. Students in 10th grade also recorded the lowest rate ever for the study, with 64 percent saying the drug is attainable, a 1.4 percent drop from 2015.

Research, which was stalled for years by the drug's illegal status, has yet to catch up to usage, she said, so it's not yet clear how marijuana use affects the developing brain. Among all teenagers who took part in the survey in 2016 only 36% of them had consumed alcoholic drinks during the past year. In 2016 the survey found that, despite the growing number of states making it easier to obtain marijuana, not only is marijuana use down among teenagers, but so is its availability.

While the federal agency is baffled by the low rate of teen use, advocates such as Marijuana Majority chairman Tom Angell say that legalization will help keep teen pot use down rather than encourage the habit. That's down from just over 50 percent in the early 2000s, when the rate peaked. Similarly, rates of marijuana use in the past year among 10th graders also remained stable compared to 2015, but are at their lowest levels in over two decades.

"We're seeing that more people in the USA except for teenagers are taking [marijuana]", Volkow said. Eighty-one percent of 12th graders said marijuana would be easy to get, up 1.5 percent from previous year.

Romney confirms he's not Trump's pick for secretary of state
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Opinions vary on the cause of the decline, ranging from teens spending more time in front of computer and gaming screens, to better education and awareness programs aimed at teens and youth.

"There's data to show that nicotine primes the brain for reinforcing effects of other drugs", she said.

Teen use of ecstasy (MDMA) was at its lowest rate since the survey began.

E-cigarettes have rapidly grown in popularity among teens, Volkow said.

Increased use of social media could be playing a role in reducing peer pressure to try drugs, she said. As a result, she explained, e-cigarettes are very effective at maximizing the rewarding effects of any drug and therefore its addictive potential.

Ball said his biggest concerns about reduced teen drug use are that "we, as a society, may feel a false sense of complacency or falsely believe that we do not need as much substance-use prevention programming in schools and communities". Researchers found an nearly 20% decrease in the rate of alcohol use in the case of 12 graders.

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