BETHESDA, Md. (CN) - As the United States ramps up its battle against opioid abuse, an annual survey of teen drug use revealed historic lows Thursday when it comes to painkillers.
Opioid-overdose rates remain high among adults, but the 2017 Monitoring the Future survey reported that fewer teens than ever are abusing pain medication.
“For example, past-year misuse of the opioid pain reliever Vicodin among high school seniors dropped to its lowest point since the survey began measuring it in 2002, and it is now at just 2 percent,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse said Thursday in a statement. “This compares to last year’s 2.9 percent, and reflects a long-term decline from a peak of 10.5 percent in 2003.”
Led by Mexican-born scientist Nora Volkow, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is a division of the National Institutes of Health.
Since 1975, the institute has been conducting an annual survey, with help from the University of Michigan, to measure how teens report their use of and attitudes toward drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
For decades, the survey monitored 12th graders only. Eighth and 10th graders were added to the survey in 1991. This year’s survey was conducted on 43,703 students from 360 public and private schools.
Volkow was cautious about what the significance of this year’s opioid-abuse findings.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Misuse of the prescription opioid Oxycontin by high school seniors peaked at 5.5 percent in 2005, but this year’s survey found a historic low of 2.7 percent.
Heroin and methamphetamine use is not widely reported — less than 0.5 percent — and the researchers found that misuse of “narcotics other than heroin” by 12th graders had dropped significantly in the past year to 4.2 percent. Those numbers peaked in 2004 at 9.5 percent.
“Interestingly, teens also think these drugs are not as easy to get as they used to be,” according to a statement on the survey from the institute. “Only 35.8 percent of 12th graders said they were easily available in the 2017 survey, compared to more than 54 percent in 2010.”
Meanwhile 23.3 percent of 10th graders called it easy to get tranquilizers, up from 20.5 percent last year.
This year’s survey also found a decline in cigarettes and hookah use, but about a third of 12th graders reported having used some kind of vaping device.