U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Substance Abuse

In 2008, 9.3 percent of adolescents aged 12–17 years reported using illicit drugs in the past month. Illicit drug use varied by age, with 3.3 percent of youth aged 12–13 years reporting drug use in the past month, compared to 8.6 percent of youth aged 14–15 years and 15.2 percent of youth aged 16–17 years. There was also variation by race/ethnicity, with rates ranging from 2.7 percent among Asian youth to 18.2 percent among American Indian/Alaska Native youth. Rates for non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic youth were 9.8 percent, 8.2 percent, and 8.9 percent, respectively (data not shown).

Marijuana is consistently the most commonly used illicit drug among adolescents, with 6.7 percent reporting past-month use in 2008. This was followed by nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutics, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, and stimulants (2.9 percent). Adolescent males were slightly more likely than females to report using illicit drugs in the past month (9.5 versus 9.1 percent; data not shown).

Illicit drug use is associated with other health risk behaviors. In 2008, 49.0 percent of adolescents who reported cigarette use in the past month also reported illicit drug use, compared to only 5.3 percent of adolescents who did not report smoking. Adolescents who reported alcohol use in the past month were also more likely to use illicit drugs than adolescents who did not report alcohol use, with rates rising with the amount of alcohol used (data not shown).

Alcohol continues to be the most commonly used drug among adolescents, with 14.6 percent reporting past-month use in 2008. There was little difference in alcohol use among males and females (14.2 versus 15.0 percent, respectively). Greater variation was evident by race/ ethnicity, with rates ranging from 5.7 percent among Asian youth to 17.2 percent among American Indian/Alaska Native youth; the rate for non-Hispanic White youth was 16.3 percent (data not shown).

In 2008, 33.9 percent of adolescents perceived smoking marijuana once a month to be a great risk, while 49.7 percent perceived the same risk regarding cocaine use. Smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a day was considered a great risk by 69.7 percent of adolescents. Drinking five or more drinks once or twice per week was considered a great risk by 40.5 percent of adolescents (data not shown).

While 13.7 percent of adolescents were approached by someone selling drugs in the past month, nearly 50 percent reported that marijuana would be fairly or very easy to obtain; 23.2 percent reported the same for crack, 22.1 percent for cocaine, 13.8 percent for LSD, and 13.0 percent for heroin (data not shown).

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