Alright parents, I've got good news and bad news. First, I am pleased to report that this year's Monitoring the Future survey indicates that teen drug use has continued to decline slowly over the past year. However, as wonderful as that news is, it is also a very deceptive statistic. Because while fewer high school students seem to be abusing illegal drugs such as marijuana, they are continuing to abuse prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicine at relatively high rates.
The results of the large, government-backed survey reflect the responses of 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders (PDF) from more than 400 schools across the nation. Interestingly, the reduction in illegal drug use among teens noted in the survey took place when federal funding for anti-drug advertising was also declining.
Still, these numbers are nothing to get excited about. In fact, the abuse of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine among teens remains much higher today than it was 15 years ago. And the fact that so many teenagers are abusing prescription drugs and drinking cough medicine to get high is very off-putting. It says that as a society our message to youth is not clear. "My guess is that young people do not understand the dangers of abusing these drugs," said Lloyd D. Johnston, a University of Michigan researcher who led the survey.
But the serious dangers are there, nonetheless. Teenagers need to understand that abusing prescription drugs, although they are legal, can be just as dangerous (or more so) than abusing illegal drugs. As a society, we must change the way we think and speak about prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse to reflect the seriousness of the issue. John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy insists that we can all start today:
"If there is one thing that every adult can do today to help protect young people, it is to go to your medicine cabinet, take those prescription drugs you are finished using and throw them away. If you have teens in your house, remove this hazard today."