Two important aspects of the drug epidemic are at the forefront of national attention. The first is the legalization of the production, sale, and use of marijuana. The second is the explosion of drug overdose deaths that has resulted in overdose becoming the leading cause of death for Americans age 50 and younger and has led to a remarkable decline in U.S. life expectancy for the third consecutive year. These are the poles of drug policy: efforts to relax and even eliminate prohibition of marijuana on the one hand and increasing restrictions on opioids to discourage use and to reduce overdose deaths on the other. As we consider present and future drug crises, we can learn useful lessons both from expanding the focus beyond marijuana and opioids and from exploring the path that has led the nation to the current drug epidemic.
The latest data from the nationally representative Monitoring the Future study shows the single-largest year-to-year increase in substance use in the US for 10th and 12th graders due to vaping. From 2017 to 2018 past-month vaping of nicotine nearly doubled among high school seniors from 11% to 21%, and did double among sophomores from 8% to 16%. Not surprisingly, the increases seen in vaping nicotine were mirrored with significant increases in vaping marijuana among 8th, 10th and 12th graders. Lead study researcher Richard Miech PhD noted that “Factors that make vaping so attractive to youth include its novelty and the easy conceal-ability of the latest vaping devices, which better allows youth to vape without adults knowing about it. If we want to prevent youth from using drugs, including nicotine, vaping will warrant special attention in terms of policy, education campaigns, and prevention programs in the coming years.” Read more.
An op-ed in The Washington Post from Alex M. Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), brings much-needed attention to the growing problem of youth use of nicotine through e-cigarettes: In one year fom 2017 to 2018, “the number of high-school-age children reporting use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent. Use among middle-schoolers also increased nearly 50 percent. That is an epidemic… The surge in e-cigarette use by teenagers is alarming because nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development, which continues into young adulthood. Worse, kids who start on e-cigarettes are actually more likely than non-user peers to migrate to smoking tobacco…” Read more.
IBH promotes the prevention goal for youth under age 21 as One Choice: no use of any alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs for reasons of health. Read more about One Choice Prevention.