ANN ARBOR, Mich., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A new study shows a 20-year trend of declining drug use among high school students continued in 2015 as usage rates for most substances were at or near record lows, although marijuana use remained at the same level it has for the past five years.
Monitoring the Future, an annual survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health, found students largely are using fewer drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes -- at their lowest usage rates since 1975 -- and other drugs.
"We are heartened to see that most illicit drug use is not increasing, non-medical use of prescription opioids is decreasing, and there is improvement in alcohol and cigarette use rates," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, in a press release. "However, continued areas of concern are the high rate of daily marijuana smoking seen among high school students, because of marijuana's potential deleterious effects on the developing brains of teenagers, and the high rates of overall tobacco products and nicotine containing e-cigarettes usage."
Monitoring the Future interviewed 44,892 students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades who attend 382 public and private schools about their use of cigarettes, alcohol and illicit drugs during the previous month.
Overall, 23.6 percent of high school seniors used an illicit drug in the previous month, with 7.6 percent saying they used an illicit drug other than marijuana.
While researchers called a dip in the share of seniors who consider regular use of marijuana dangerous -- 31.9 percent this year compared to 36.1 percent last year -- overall use remained flat. Past-year use of synthetic marijuana dropped significantly in the last four years, with just 5.2 percent of seniors using it this year, compared to 11.4 percent in 2011 when researchers started asking about it.
Among 10th graders, cigarette smoking has dropped by more than half, with 3 percent reporting they smoked in 2015 compared to 6.6 percent five years ago. The use of other tobacco products remained high though as 19.8 percent of seniors smoked tobacco through a hookah and 15.9 percent smoked "small cigars."
The number of 12th graders who have been drunk in the last year decreased from 41.4 percent in 2014 to 37.7 percent this year, and those who engaged in binge drinking dropped from 19.4 percent last year to 17.2 percent this year. Both rates have gone down significantly from their peak rates some 15 years ago.
Use of prescription opioids, heroin, MDMA, and opioids also have dropped overall -- with use of opioids less than half what it was in 2003, decreasing from a peak of 10.5 percent to just 4.4 percent in 2014.
The researchers noted that teen drinking remains concerning, as does relatively steady rates of marijuana use. In the case of marijuana, however, researchers said the slow spread of legalization across the country does not appear to increasing the number of teens using it.
"There is an attitude of questioning information brought up by the government, and among teenagers that can be more than among adults," Volkow told the New York Times. "It's a constant fight -- with all drugs."