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Teen drug use decreased in 2016

Meredith Bland is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Time.com, Brain, Mother, The Rumpus, Scary Mommy and Narratively, among others.

Teen survey finds ‘some of the lowest rates of drug use we've ever encountered’

Let's bask in some good news together, shall we? A survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that drug use continues to decline among teens and is the lowest in the survey's history among eighth-graders.

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"This is very, very good news," said Dr. Nora Volkow of the NIDA to CBS Philly. "We are seeing some of the lowest rates of drug use we've ever encountered in our survey, and that is for cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, [and] inhalants." The 2016 Monitoring the Future survey also found that rates of alcohol and cigarette use are the "lowest ever seen," Volkow said.

This is outstanding news for those of us raising children right now. It's also, however, pretty surprising news when we think back to what the world was like when we were teenagers. But the ways in which the world is different now may be responsible for some of these results. For example, cigarettes have long been considered a gateway drug, and with fewer children smoking these days, "you don't have those priming effects," says Volkow. She also suspects that today's screen-based world has helped reduce drug use among teens because they are more likely to chat electronically, which leaves less time for face-to-face peer pressure.

Still of concern to Volkow, however, are marijuana and e-cigarettes. While there has been a small decrease in the use of marijuana among eighth-graders (1.1 percent reported daily use in 2015 compared to 0.7 percent in 2016, for example), the numbers are unchanged among older students. The legalization of marijuana in states such as Colorado and Washington no doubt has an effect on this, but Volkow is still concerned about the effect of marijuana on teens, which she says increases the risk that kids will drop out of school and may have a negative effect on a teenager's developing brain.

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As for e-cigarettes, the survey just started tracking their use last year and found that they are already more popular among 12th-graders than normal cigarettes. E-cigarettes are widely advertised and are thought by many teens to contain nothing but "flavoring," when, in fact, they do contain nicotine.

In the case of marijuana, e-cigarettes and all other drugs, the key is to educate our kids and remain vigilant. As Samuel Ball, the president and CEO of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University put it, we parents cannot fall into a "false sense of complacency" regarding these survey results. That drug talk still needs to happen, folks. Only now, we need to include a discussion about "pie crust-flavored" e-cigarettes (they also come in "bubble gum" and "milk" flavors, because gross.)

The Monitoring the Future survey has been conducted every year since 1975, and measures drug use among eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. This year 45,473 students from 372 public and private schools participated in the survey.

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