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Prevalence and Incidence

In 2002, 11.6 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 reported using illicit drugs in the previous month. The use of illicit drugs within the past month increased with age: 4.2 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds reported drug use, compared to 11.2 percent of 14- to 15-year-olds and 19.8 percent of 16- to 17-year-olds. Alcohol, used by 17.6 percent of teens aged 12 to 17, is the most commonly used drug among adolescents, and marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug. The next most common is nonmedical use of prescription drugs, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, or stimulants; this was reported by 4 percent of adolescents. Marijuana use is more common among males, with 9.1 percent reporting use in the past month compared to 7.2 percent of females, while prescription drug abuse is more likely to be reported by females (4.3 percent, compared to 3.6 percent of males). Data also indicate that other habits, such as cigarette smoking, influence adolescents’ use of illicit drugs. In 2002, 48.1 percent of youths who smoked cigarettes currently used illicit drugs, while only 6.2 percent of nonsmokers used illicit drugs.

Perception of Risk and Access to Drugs

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) included questions about perceived risk and access to illicit drugs among youths aged 12-17. According to the 2002 survey results, 32.4 percent of youths perceive smoking marijuana as a great risk while 50.5 percent believed that using cocaine once a month was a great risk. In the same year, 63.1 percent of youths believed that smoking at least one pack of cigarettes a day was a great risk. Among those youths that believed smoking marijuana was a great risk, 1.9 percent admitted to using the drug within the past month. But for youths that perceived smoking marijuana as a moderate, slight, or nonexistent risk, 11.3 percent reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. In 2002, 55 percent of youths aged 12-17 reported that marijuana would be fairly or very easy to obtain, 25 percent reported the same for cocaine, 19.4 percent for LSD and 15.8 percent for heroin. Little variation existed between youths from large metropolitan areas, small metropolitan areas, and non-metropolitan areas in the proportion that reported that marijuana was fairly or easily obtainable.

Graph:  Drug use among adolescents ages 12-17 in the past 30 days 2002[d]