2006 Dayton Area Drug Survey Shows Decline in Teen Drug Use Continues

Results from the 2006 Dayton Area Drug Survey (DADS) show that the decline in drug use among adolescents in the Miami Valley, first noted in 2002, has continued. These findings are consistent with those from national studies which have also shown declining drug use among young people. Although there were declines in virtually all categories of drug use, the largest decreases were seen with cigarettes. Overall, the results are good news for all concerned about the health, safety, and welfare of young people. Nevertheless, the results also show that drug abuse remains a serious problem for many teens here in the Dayton area.

For the first time in the history of DADS, less than half (43 percent) of the 12th graders surveyed reported ever having smoked a cigarette, down from 51 percent in 2004. The percentage of 12th graders who reported smoking at least one cigarette per day in the past month also declined from 14 percent to 11 percent. Significant decreases occurred in cigarette use at all other grade levels surveyed. From a public health perspective, the declining number of teen smokers means that there are likely to be fewer adult smokers in the future. Equally important, from a substance abuse prevention perspective, is that tobacco is a "gateway drug," and declines in its use often presage declines in the use of other drugs.

DADS is a biennial, cross-sectional study that provides estimates of teen drug use in the Miami Valley area. First administered in 1990, DADS is a collaborative effort between the Center for Interventions, Treatment, and Addictions Research at the Wright State University's Boonshoft School of Medicine, Unified Health Solutions, and area school districts. Districts choose which grades between 7 and 12 they want to survey. Students respond anonymously and on a voluntary basis. In late winter and early spring 2006, 16,500 students from 15 districts in Montgomery, Greene, and Warren counties responded to DADS. The majority of the sample was white (82 percent), suburban (95 percent), and evenly split between boys and girls.

The decline in alcohol use was less dramatic than that seen with cigarettes. For example, 2006 data show that 58 percent of 12th graders, 29 percent of 9th graders, and 8 percent of 7th graders report having gotten drunk at least once in their lifetimes, compared to 61 percent, 30 percent, and 9 percent in 2004. Recent heavy drinking (i.e., having had five or more alcoholic drinks in a row in the two weeks prior to DADS) was reported by 30 percent of the 12th graders in 2006, compared to 32 percent in 2004.

The percentage of 12th graders reporting ever having used marijuana declined from 44 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2006, the lowest in the history of DADS. The use of many other drugs declined as well but still persists. For example, 20 percent of the sample reported the use of over-the-counter weight loss preparations, with proportionately more girls than boys doing so. The non-prescribed use of prescription opiates such as Vicodin® was reported by 15 percent of the sample and 14 percent reported the non-prescribed use of tranquilizers such as Xanax®. The use of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms was reported 9 percent of 12th grade students. The non-prescribed use of prescription stimulants such as Adderall® remained stable at 8 percent of the 12th grade cohort. The use of cocaine HCl and crack cocaine was 7 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

For all grade levels, except the 7th, alcohol was the most commonly used drug, followed by tobacco, and then marijuana. Among 7th graders, alcohol was followed by tobacco, inhalants, and then marijuana. Also, some variation in drug use prevalence exists among districts.

The findings on alcohol consumption are particularly worrisome. While it is generally recognized that tobacco and other non-medical drug use are harmful to health, alcohol is widely promoted and used in our society. Consequently, attitudes towards its use are more tolerant than they are towards the use of other drugs. Recent and emerging research on alcohol use and brain development in adolescents suggests that alcohol - heavy use in particular - is fraught with long term, adverse consequences. Research also suggests that young people who get involved with alcohol while they are young teens have a much higher likelihood of becoming alcoholics than those who postpone drinking until they are older. 2006 DADS data show that the vast majority of young people still see drinking alcohol as acceptable behavior. The multi-faceted approach that has been effective with tobacco has not been applied to alcohol, particularly in regard to advertising. Imposing restrictions on alcohol advertising as part of a comprehensive effort to change teens' attitudes toward alcohol as well as their drinking practices should be seriously considered.

DADS data on the degree of harmfulness young people attribute to selected drugs are instructive. For example, 77 percent of 7th graders see tobacco use as very harmful, while 47 percent see alcohol that way. By grade 12, there is some erosion with tobacco, with 63 percent seeing its use as very harmful, while only 25 percent see alcohol use as very harmful. These data suggest there may be value providing substance abuse prevention programming throughout high school. Currently, the most intense substance abuse prevention efforts end by 8th or 9th grade.

For the first time in DADS history, 12th grade students were queried on drug use and motor vehicle behavior. When asked if they had ridden in a motor vehicle when they believed the driver was under the influence of alcohol or other non-medical drugs (other than caffeine or tobacco), 46 percent said they had, with 28 percent reporting that they had done so more than once or twice. When asked if they had driven a motor vehicle under the influence, 31 percent reported they had, and 18 percent reported they had done so more than once or twice.

When asked to identify the single most common source of alcoholic beverages for young people, 51 percent of 12th graders reported parties without parents present, 21 percent said adult siblings, 17 percent said stores, and 7 percent said parents.

DADS covered non-drug issues, too. Results show:

  • 26 percent of 7th graders, 24 percent of 9th graders, and 12 percent of 12th graders felt bullied or harassed by other teens in the 30 days before the survey;
  • 15 percent of 7th graders, 13 percent of 9th graders, and 10 percent of 12th graders got into a physical fight with someone in the 30 days before the survey;
  • 3 percent of 7th graders, 6 percent of 9th graders, and 18 percent of 12th graders missed school without the permission of a parent or guardian in the 30 days before the survey;
  • 75 percent of 12th graders were employed outside of the home or school; and
  • About 85 percent of the students currently considered themselves to be happy or very happy with their lives while the remainder considered themselves to be unhappy or very unhappy.