'U' study: More teenagers raiding medicine cabinets for drugs

Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 17, 2007

More and more teens are getting their fix from the corner pharmacy instead of the corner drug dealer, according to a major study released by the University.

The number of teens who use prescription narcotics, tranquillizers and sedatives not prescribed to them has increased since last year, according to the results of the 2006 Monitoring the Future study released in December.

But while teens are spending more time in their parents' medicine cabinets, they are also losing interest in many once-popular illicit drugs, such as marijuana and methamphetamine, the study said.

The study also suggests that one of the most effective indicators of teen drug use is perceived risk of using a certain drug. Marijuana use, for example, has decreased while the perception that it's a harmful drug has increased.

Although the Monitoring the Future study is commissioned by the White House and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse the idea for the study was developed and initiated by researchers at the University of Michigan. This is different from most studies of the sort, which are initiated by the government's request.

Lloyd Johnston, a University researcher and the study's principle investigator, was one of the project's primary designers, beginning during Gerald Ford's presidency. After 32 years of work, the study now reaches about 50,000 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students at 410 different schools across the country.

Johnston said the Monitoring the Future survey is high in construct validity - meaning it tests for what it's supposed to measure.

He said it's reliable even though the participants respond to the survey on their own, and honesty is not necessarily enforced.

"We get a high level of truth-telling for a host of reasons," he said.

Johnston said confidentiality and administration of the survey by the researchers lead students to respond honestly. As evidence, he cited a high correspondence between teens own reported drug use and what they report as their friends' drug use.

Johnston said Monitoring the Future paints a picture of drug use in the United States so that everyone from parents to drug policy makers can respond to it in the most effective way possible.

"Initially, people way overestimated the amount of drug use kids were involved in," he said, referring to the past tendencies of policymakers to look at an isolated sample of kids showing high drug use and apply it to the teen population at large.

The survey results are announced each year at a press conference in Washington, D.C. High-ranking officials like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the White House's drug czar often join Johnston at the podium

Bill Clinton's response to the study resulted in one of the largest nationwide campaigns to reduce cigarette smoking in teens - a project funded by a $250 billion legal settlement with tobacco companies.

According to the 2006 Measuring the Future results, though, the decline in tobacco use by younger teens is nearing a halt. Johnston sees this as a sign that it's time for new initiatives, though he's not sure a campaign on the federal level will succeed in reducing teen drug use.

"Many perceptions of the dangers of drug use come from the media picking up stories and spreading them," Johnston said.

In addition to all of the "unfortunate role models" displayed nightly on the local news, there are also celebrities whose status may influence teen lifestyle changes when they hit rock bottom, he said.