Caron Treatment Centers’ Student Assistance Program has been providing prevention, intervention, and referral services for over 25 years and we are encouraged by the positive Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results. As substance use continues to decrease at all levels, there is support that prevention efforts are working and Caron is committed to efforts to continue these trends in the future.
Of particular interest is the decline in prescription opioid misuse as well as the news that heroin use is at the lowest rate since the first survey was completed. This past year, the heroin epidemic was highly publicized and overdose deaths were spotlighted at all levels of the media. History has demonstrated that when teens are exposed to the dangers of substances, traditionally we see a reduction in use; this appears to be occurring once again. However, we can’t be complacent and there is still work to be done. For instance, the survey showed two of the most frequent ways 12th graders obtained prescription opioids was buying or getting them from friends or relatives.
Unfortunately, trends tend to move in a negative direction when the perception of harm is reduced. Prevention efforts shift to focus on the areas of growing concern, but we believe the message should remain strong that alcohol and other drug use are just as dangerous as ever and have a negative impact on the healthy development of teens. There should be a consistent “no use” message with supportive and informative community resources.
Of particular concern are the results related to electronic cigarettes. There has been little research done on the impact of these products. Cigarette smoking is at an all time low; however, with an increase in electronic cigarette use, nicotine is still being consumed, and we do know exposure to nicotine during the teen years causes significant brain changes that can impact preference for other drugs. We continue to incorporate information in our prevention curriculum to share accurate information regarding this newest trend in substance use.
In addition, marijuana use remains steady and perception of harm continues to decrease. Inconsistent messages related to marijuana and the perception that “marijuana use isn’t that bad” can create a perception that everyone is using it and that it is a rite of passage for teens. No matter how ingested, marijuana directly affects the brain, specifically the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, and reaction time. Caron has a clear message that marijuana is not a healthy substance and has the potential to negatively impact lives. We will continue to reinforce a no tolerance policy, healthy coping skills, and educate parents to recognize observable behaviors of concern related to marijuana use.
Caron’s prevention message continues to focus on accurate information:
- Among youths aged 12 to 17, the rate of current non-medical use of prescription-type drugs declined from 4.0 percent in 2002 to 2.8 percent in 2011. That means the number of prescription medicine abusers was 8.76 million. (SAMHSA)
- 1 in 15 people who take non medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within 10 years. (NIDA)
- Students who have used electronic cigarettes by the time they start ninth grade are more likely than others to start smoking traditional cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products within the next year. (NIDA)
- According to NIDA, it is estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it. The number goes up to about 17 percent in those who start using young (in their teens).
Overall, we are encouraged by the MTF results and the data will continue to support our programming for parents, professionals, and students. Providing positive social norming messages along with accurate information on the risks of using drugs and alcohol is invaluable to our efforts to reduce the impact of substance use on individuals, families, and the community.