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Treating our Nation’s Teen Drug Problem

Hear from Gil Kerlikowske Director White House Office of National Drug Control Policy about what the Obama Administration is doing to decrease our nation's drug problem amongst African American teen girls.

Earlier this month, we at the Office of National Drug Control Policy released some troubling data revealing that in addition to overall increases in youth drug use nationwide, certain groups of minority teens are suffering from illegal drug use at even higher rates. 

According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency’s (SAMHSA) 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there were significant increases in drug use among young African American teen girls and Hispanic teen boys between 2008 and 2009. When surveyed about their use of any illicit drug during the past month, both groups demonstrated increases in drug use of more than 3 percentage points, making them the demographic populations with the largest increases in illicit drug use between 2008 and 2009. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that although health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for most Americans, minorities experience a disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and disability compared with non-minorities.

As part of the Obama Administration’s effort to treat our nation’s drug problem as a public health threat, we are aggressively reaching out to underserved populations with vital drug prevention and treatment resources and health messages. This effort has included increased funding in the 2010 budget for drug prevention by $203 million and treatment programs by $137 million dollars, placing a heavier emphasis on early intervention programs in health settings, aligning criminal justice policies and public health systems to divert non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of jail, and, through the Affordable Care Act, expanding access to substance abuse treatment. We’re also partnering more closely with communities to reach at risk youth populations through our National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.

But we need your help.  Here’s what you can do today to help reverse these increases in youth drug use and make America healthier:

1. Talk to your kids about drugs. Research shows parents are the best messengers to deliver critical information on drug use. Make sure they know of the harms that can result from drug use and that you don't approve of them. For tips and parenting advice visit

2. Learn to spot risk factors that can lead to drug use. Association with drug-abusing peers is often the most immediate risk factor that can lead young people to drug use and delinquent behavior. Other risk factors include poor classroom behavior or social skills and academic failure. Parents can protect their kids from these influences by building strong bonds with their children, staying involved in their lives, and setting clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline.

3. Go through your medicine cabinet. More than 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family – often from the home medicine cabinet. Immediately remove unused or unneeded prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet. Click here to learn how to properly dispose of prescription drugs.

Gil Kerlikowske is the Director White House Office of National Drug Control Policy