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Overall teen drug use is down, marijuana and vaping up, study finds

Vaping and marijuana are becoming increasingly more popular among American teens than traditional cigarettes, binge drinking and the misuse of pain relievers, all of which have hit historic lows in 2017.

» RELATED: Doctors and the opioid crisis: An AJC National Investigation

That’s according to a new National Institute on Drug Abuse survey of about 45,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, in which nearly 40 percent of U.S. 12th-graders surveyed reported some type of illicit drug use in the past year, with about 1 in 3 reporting using some kind of vaping device.

The results released Thursday also showed that the use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin continues to decline overall, to the lowest levels seen in the survey’s 43 years.

Read the full survey at drugabuse.gov.

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Here are the major findings from the Monitoring the Future survey:

Cigarette smoking declines among teens

According to these findings from the 2017 Monitoring the Future survey, cigarette smoking has dramatically declined in the past decade. 

In 1997, 24.6 percent of 12th-graders reported cigarette smoking as a daily drug activity. In 2017, only 4.2 percent of high school seniors said they smoked cigarettes on the daily.

» RELATED: 7 million people die of tobacco use each year — how much is tobacco costing Georgians?

Vaping, marijuana use up among teens

About 1 in 3 12th-graders in the U.S. reported using some kind of vaping device in 2017, but many teens don’t know what is in the device they’re using, according to the survey.

» RELATED: Are e-cigarettes a way to quit smoking?

When asked what they thought was in the mist they inhaled the last time they used the device, 51.8 percent of 12th graders said ‘just flavoring,’ 32.8 percent replied ‘nicotine’ and 11.1 percent said ‘marijuana’ or ‘hash oil.’ 

“We are especially concerned because the survey shows that some of the teens using these devices are first-time nicotine users,” Nora D. Volkow, director of NIDA, said. “Recent research suggests that some of them could move on to regular cigarette smoking, so it is critical that we intervene with evidence-based efforts to prevent youth from using these products.”

» RELATED: Atlanta parents weigh pros and cons of letting their teens vape

And among American eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, the percentage of those who said they used pot in the previous year increased to 24 percent, a 1.3 percent increase from 2016.

While marijuana rates are slightly up from 2016 (22.6 percent), they’re similar to 2015 rates (23.7 percent).

And according to the survey, 12th-graders in states with medical marijuana laws are more likely to have vaped marijuana or consumed marijuana edibles than their counterparts.

» RELATED: Vaping device that looks like USB drive popular with teens

Binge drinking levels off among teens

Binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row) among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders appears to have leveled off in 2017 after years of steady decline, according to the report.

» RELATED: How much alcohol is too much?

Here’s the 2017 breakdown compared to peak years:

- 12th-graders: 16.6 percent reported binge drinking (31.5 percent in 1998)

- 10th-graders: 9.8 percent (24.1 percent in 2000)

- Eighth-graders: 3.7 percent (13.3 percent in 1996)

“While binge drinking among eighth, 10th, and 12th grade students remains well below the levels seen a decade ago, the downward trend in binge drinking appears to have slowed somewhat in recent years,” George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said. “This may signal a need for more emphasis on alcohol prevention strategies in this age group.”

» RELATED: Georgia law says teens can have alcohol (sometimes)

Pain medication misuse hits historic lows among teens

In 2017, the misuse of opioid pain reliever Vicodin among high school seniors dropped to its lowest point since the survey began measuring it in 2002.

» RELATED: 5 ways to to talk to your young child about the opioid epidemic

Only 2 percent of 12th-graders reported Vicodin misuse. Last year, the figure was at 2.9 percent. In 2003, 10.5 percent of 12th-graders reported Vicodin misuse.

When it comes to overall pain medication misuse (narcotics other than heroin) among high school seniors, the survey showed a significant decline since its 2004 peak — from 9.5 percent in 2004 to 4.2 percent in 2017.

» RELATED: US gun death rate up for second straight year, drug deaths rising faster than ever

“The decline in both the misuse and perceived availability of opioid medications may reflect recent public health initiatives to discourage opioid misuse to address this crisis,” Volkow said. “However, with each new class of teens entering the challenging years of middle and high school, we must remain vigilant in our prevention efforts targeting young people, the adults who nurture and influence them, and the health care providers who treat them.”

Overall, according to the survey, illicit drug use other than marijuana and inhalants, remains the lowest in the history of the survey in all three grades.

Read more from the survey at drugabuse.gov.

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