Today, our colleagues at The Partnership at Drugfree.org released the findings of a new, national study called The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, or PATS. This study tracks drug use and attitude trends among high-school aged teens in America, and this year it revealed some troubling findings.
Most notably, it found that marijuana use among teens in 2011 rose over the preceding three years, with an especially sharp rise in past-month, heavy use (i.e., 20 or more times in the past 30 days) of the drug. Heavy, past-month use of marijuana saw an 80 percent increase among U.S. teens since 2008. These findings draw particular attention to the huge gap in youth education left behind when the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaignwas defunded by Congress last year.
As the Partnership notes, the last time marijuana use was this widespread among teens was in 1998 when past-month use of marijuana was at 27 percent. Marijuana use by teens is up across the board, with a 42 percent increase in past-month use, a 26 percent increase in past-year use, and a 21 percent increase in lifetime use.
Marijuana use has become a normalized behavior among American teens; in the study, 30 percent fewer teens agreed with the statement “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana” than in 2008. 71 percent of teens say they have friends who use marijuana regularly (up from 64 percent in 2008).
With heavy marijuana use up 80 percent in 2011, Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, expressed concern about the risks of teenage drug use—which has been shown to lead to substance abuse disorders in adulthood.
From The Partnership at Drugfree.org: "These findings are deeply disturbing as the increases we're seeing in heavy, regular marijuana use among high school students can spell real trouble for these teens later on,” said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org. “Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well. Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”
The study found that while the amount of prescription drug abuse among teens was relatively unchanged, the level was unacceptably high. Unfortunately this flattening effect cannot be attributed to parents included in the study, who reported that Rx medicines were actually more accessible in the home now than in 2010.
All of these findings underscore the importance of reaching and educating youth—and their parents—about the long-term consequences of teenage drug use.