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New Survey Shows Teen Marijuana Use Climbing As Nicotine Use Falls

By John Lavitt 12/16/15

A new survey on teen drug use reveals that the real problem might be access to legal, not illegal, drugs.

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has released the results of the 2015 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. Conducted earlier this year by scientists at the University of Michigan, the MTF survey tracks annual drug use and attitudes among 8th, 10th, and 12th-grade students. The most surprising result from the 2015 survey is that as nicotine and tobacco use among teens continues to drop, marijuana use continues to surge. For the first time, more 12th graders reported daily use of marijuana (6%) than daily use of cigarettes (5.5%).

When it comes to teenagers, access to legal drugs seems to be more of a problem than illegal drugs. As opposed to heroin, teenagers seem to abuse prescription opioids that they get from friends and family. Still without question, the opioid epidemic is not affecting the teen population like it is affecting the adult population. Following the trend of legal abuse, Adderall remains a huge problem for teens.

Information from these surveys helps to provide strategic planning for prevention, treatment, and recovery support services for youth. Employing real-time results, the MTF findings are announced the same year the data is collected. Overall, 41,551 students from 377 public and private schools participated in this year's Monitoring the Future survey. The 2015 MTF survey findings help identify potential drug problem areas so that resources are targeted to areas of greatest need.

The survey reveals that young people are abusing substances they have somewhat legal access to, as opposed to abusing illegal drugs. In an exclusive interview, The Fix asked NIDA's Deputy Director Dr. Wilson Compton what could be done to prevent teens from abusing what are essentially legal drugs.

"We have had success in this area with alcohol and tobacco. They have been widely available for many years, although not legal, of course, for teens to use. When it comes to these other widely available drugs, we have to work with communities and families to provide them with the resources to help guide adolescents through their early adult decision-making process," Dr. Compton said. "In terms of prescription drugs, we also need to ask how do we help doctors change their prescribing patterns. It is important to note that 30% of the 12th graders that reported abusing prescription opioids in the survey said they had been personally prescribed the painkillers.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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