December 22, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The use of marijuana and other illicit drugs declined slightly among teenagers in 2004, but dangerous inhalants and the highly addictive prescription painkiller Oxycontin are becoming more popular, a new national drug survey says.

The percentage of 12th-graders who reported using any illicit drug during the past year fell to 38.8 percent in 2004, compared with 39.3 percent the previous year, according to the study done by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That continued a decline in teen drug use that began in the 1990s.

But the study also points out ominous trends in teens’ drug use. The use of inhalants such as paint thinner, glue and gasoline increased sharply among eighth-graders in 2003 and continued to rise this year, a sign that inhaling, or "huffing," is rebounding in popularity after many years of decline.

Inhaling chemical fumes is most common among younger teens because products that contain them are cheap, easy to find and legal to buy.

Oxycontin, which emerged in drug-abuse reports in 2001, is gaining ground among high school seniors, the report says.

When surveyors first asked teenagers about the narcotic in 2002, 4 percent said they had used it during the past year. This year, 5 percent of 12th-graders said they had used the Oxycontin. It is developing a greater following than heroin, amphetamines and some "club drugs" such as GHB.

"We think that these are disturbingly high rates," says Lloyd Johnston, a research psychologist and principal investigator for the study, which is known as the Monitoring the Future Survey. "One in every 20 students (using Oxycontin) -- that’s a lot to begin with."

Johnston attributes the rise in inhalant abuse to "generational forgetting." Many youths have not been exposed to anti-inhalant media campaigns that were discontinued several years ago, he says. Such abuse declined for several years after an anti-inhalant advertising campaign in 1995.