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More young adults abusing prescription drugs.

WASHINGTON -- Prescription drug abuse continues to rise among young adults, though fewer youths are smoking marijuana and using other illicit drugs, a federal substance abuse survey showed.

From 2002 to 2003, lifetime nonmedical use of prescription drugs in young adults aged 18-25 increased from 27.7% to 29%, according to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The findings were released as a press briefing sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

"That's a significant increase" in prescription drug abuse in young adults, H. Westley Clark, M.D. director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, said in an interview.

Current nonmedical use of prescription drugs also increased among young adults, from 5.4% in 2002 to 6% in 2003. For pain relievers only, lifetime use increased from 22.1% in 2002 to 23.7% in 2003. Nonmedical use of prescription drugs among youths aged 12-17 stabilized at 4% from 2002 to 2003. "This doesn't mean it's not a problem for kids, because kids become young adults," Dr. Clark said.

During the same time period, the rate of current marijuana use among Americans aged 12-17 dropped, from 8.2% in 2002 to 7.9% in 2003. There was also a decline in lifetime marijuana use in this age group, from 20.6% in 2002 to 19.6% in 2003. Among young adults aged 18-25, current marijuana use was 53.9% in 2003, similar to the 53.9% rate in 2002. Past year use of marijuana in young adults also decreased, from 29.8% 2002 to 28.5% in 2003.

"The news on marijuana is good and hopefully a continuing trend," Alain Joffe, M.D., chair of the Committee on Substance Abuse with the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in an interview.

But the trend for abuse of prescription medication is troubling, Dr. Joffe said. "That's been a growing phenomenon, and I don't think we have a very clear sense yet on who's at risk and what the best prevention message should be."

The challenge is to call attention to the problem "without alerting adolescents that this is another drug that can be used for certain effects," he said.

Use of some illicit drugs among youths aged 12-17 decreased from 2002 to 2003. The prevalence of use in the past year decreased from 2.2% to 1.3% for ecstasy, from 1.3% to 0.6% for LSD, and from 0.9% to 0.7% for methamphetamine.

But the prevalence of inhalant abuse by 16- and 17-year-olds increased slightly, from 0.6% in 2002 to 1% in 2003.

Alcohol remains another challenge: About 10.9 million persons aged 12-20 years reported drinking alcohol in the month prior to the survey in 2003-"29% of this age group." The prevalence of underage drinking was similar in 2002.

In 2001, the most recent year for which estimates were available, 5.3 million Americans used alcohol for the first time, almost 90% of whom were under the legal drinking age of 21.

Young people are smoking less. Among youths under 18, the number of new daily smokers decreased from 1.1 million per year during 1997-2000, to 734,000 in 2002. "That works out to a decrease from about 3,000 to 2,000 new youth smokers every day," SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie said during the briefing.

Mental health issues often correlate with substance abuse problems. In 2003, an estimated 5 million youths aged 12-17 received treatment for mental health issues, higher than the 2002 estimate of 4.8 million. Depression was the reason cited most often for the latest treatment session.

Anti-drug messages inside and outside of schools, parental disapproval of substance abuse, participation in religious and other activities, and positive attitudes about school are linked to lower rates of marijuana use. For example, those young people who believed that their parents would strongly disapprove of marijuana had use rates 80% lower than those who reported that their parents would not strongly disapprove.


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Title Annotation:Adolescent Medicine
Author:Silverman, Jennifer
Publication:Internal Medicine News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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