American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
July 2010 Clinical Laboratory News: Illegal Drug Use Widespread Among Adolescents

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July 2010: Volume 36, Number 7


Illegal Drug Use Widespread Among Adolescents

In 2008, almost one third of U.S. adolescents age 12–17 drank alcohol in the past year, around one fifth used an illicit drug, and almost one sixth smoked cigarettes. This means that on an average day, 508,000 adolescents drink alcohol, 641,000 use illicit drugs, and more than 1 million smoke cigarettes, according to a national survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The new report, “A Day in the Life of American Adolescents: Substance Use Facts Update” highlights substance abuse among adolescents on an average day, drawing from national surveys conducted and analyzed by SAMHSA's Office of Applied Studies.

Although the percentage of adolescents using alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs declined between 2002 and 2008, the percentage of persons age 12–17 receiving substance abuse treatment remained relatively stable. In addition, the number of adolescents seen in an emergency department (ED) for use of illicit drugs or the misuse or abuse of pharmaceuticals remained stable from 2004 to 2008. Of individuals admitted to publically funded treatment facilities in 2008, 7.5% were age 12–17.

The study also showed that in 2008, there were about a quarter of a million drug-related ED visits among adolescents, of which 170,000 involved the use of illicit drugs, alcohol or intentional misuse or abuse of pharmaceuticals (See Box).

Among the report's major findings is that on any given day during 2008, approximately 563,000 adolescents used marijuana, nearly 37,000 used inhalants, 24,000 used hallucinogens, 16,000 used cocaine, and 2,800 used heroin.

SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde, JD, called the report “a wakeup call about the extent to which our nation’s youth engage in risky behavior by using illegal and potentially dangerous substances every day.”

The full report is available at online.