(Chicago, IL) – Driven by increases in marijuana use, a new national survey says the rate of eighth-graders saying they have used an illicit drug in the past year jumped to 16 percent, up from 13 percent in 2007, but in Illinois, funding cuts to drug abuse prevention and treatment have left communities ill-equipped to respond to the spike, says a leading Illinois drug prevention advocate.
The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), also shows that about half of 12th-graders have tried an illicit drug, with about one in 16 using marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis. Marijuana has surpassed cigarette smoking in some measures. In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes.
“Increased youth use of marijuana risks long-term addiction, education failure, and, in too many cases, criminal activity,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), a Chicago-based non-profit that advocates for people in courts, jails, prisons, and child welfare systems who need treatment for alcohol and drug problems.
“In fact, more than nine times out of 10, kids who are referred to TASC by the justice system are using marijuana. Often they’re having trouble with school or have already dropped out. They’re on a risky path toward addiction and crime.
“The Obama Administration recognizes the critical role that prevention and treatment play in reducing demand for illicit drugs, proposing this year a 13.4% increase in spending on alcohol and other drug prevention programs and a 3.7% increase for addiction treatment,” she said.
And yet in Illinois, the funding trend has gone in reverse.
“The State of Illinois has cut drug prevention and treatment funding by 30 percent in the past three years,” said Rodriguez, noting that the use of illicit drugs among youth has gone up during the same period that funding for prevention and treatment have gone down. “With unprecedented funding cuts, our efforts to curb the demand for illicit drugs are severely hampered.”
Most measures of marijuana use increased among eighth-graders, and daily marijuana use increased significantly among all three grade levels tested in the survey. The 2010 use rates were 6.1 percent of high school seniors, 3.3 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.2 percent of eighth-graders compared to 2009 rates of 5.2 percent, 2.8 percent, and 1.0 percent, respectively.
“These high rates of marijuana use during the teen and pre-teen years, when the brain continues to develop, places our young people at particular risk,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment, and motor skills, but research tells us that about one in six people who start using it as adolescents become addicted.”
“The increases in youth drug use reflected in the Monitoring the Future Study are disappointing,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame. Such messages certainly don’t help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs.”
The survey also showed a significant increase in the reported use of MDMA, or Ecstasy, with 2.4 percent of eighth-graders citing past-year use in 2010, compared to 1.3 percent in 2009. Similarly, past-year MDMA use among 10th-graders increased to 4.7 percent in 2010 from 3.7 percent in 2009.