Results from 2012 Dayton Area Drug Survey show decreases in use for many drugs although levels of “problematic” use remain unchanged

Results from the 2012 Dayton Area Drug Survey (DADS) show declines in the lifetime and current prevalence of use of many drugs when compared with findings from 2010 DADS. Nevertheless, increases in prevalence were noted for some drugs and there was essentially no change for others. For example, among 12th grade students, decreases in prevalence of use occurred with 12 drugs, increases with two, and five others remained at 2010 levels. A similar pattern was seen with ninth and seventh grade students (see DADS Tables). Although its use has decreased, alcohol remains the most widely abused drug at all grade levels, as it has for as long as the survey has been conducted. Data also suggest that about one in six high school seniors are at high-risk for a substance use disorder.

DADS is a biennial, cross-sectional study that provides estimates of non-medical drug use by school-aged teenagers in the Dayton area. First administered in 1990, the DADS is a collaborative effort between the Center for Interventions, Treatment & Addictions Research at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine and area school districts. Districts participate in the DADS at no charge and choose which grades between seven and 12 to survey. Students respond anonymously and on a voluntary basis following a protocol approved by the Wright State University Institutional Review Board. In early 2012, 15,734 students from 16 Miami Valley area school districts provided usable data. The majority of the sample was white (about 82 percent) and the sample was nearly evenly split between boys and girls.

Alcohol was the drug used by more young people than any other drug even though its use has declined, a decline mirroring a national trend. Among 12th graders (n=3,014), 67.4 percent reported drinking alcohol at least once in their lifetimes (down from 71.8 percent in 2010). Among the 50.3 percent who reported drinking to the point of drunkenness at least once (down from 55.2 percent in 2010), 41.7 percentsaid they had done so 10 or more times (down from 44.7 percent in 2010). In the two weeks before the survey, 23.6 percent of the respondents reported having had five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion, down from 26.7 percent in 2010. Among ninth graders (n=3,165), 41.2 percent reported lifetime experience with alcohol, 22.3 percent reported having been drunk at least once, and 19.8 percent of these reported doing so 10 or more times. Having five or more drinks in a row in the two weeks before the survey was reported by 8.0 percent. The corresponding percentages for seventh graders (n=3,709) are 17.1 percent, 5.6 percent, 11.2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. (DADS prevalence data for eighth [n=2,345], 10th [n=1,701], and 11th [n=1,800] graders are not included in this summary, but fit well within the rates for seventh, ninth, and 12th graders.)

Marijuana is now the second most widely used drug by high school-aged students, surpassing tobacco cigarettes. The percentage of 12th grade students who reported having used marijuana at least once in their lifetime was 43.9 percent, virtually unchanged from 44.1 percent in 2010. The percentage of 12th graders reporting daily use, defined as having used a drug 20 or more times in the 30 days before the survey, increased slightly from 6.3 percent in 2010 to 6.9 percent in 2012. Lifetime marijuana use was reported by 20.7 percent of ninth graders, with 2.2 percent reporting daily use. Nearly 6 percent of seventh graders reported having used marijuana at least once.

Tobacco cigarettes ranked third in lifetime prevalence of use with 37.1 percent of 12th graders reporting having smoked at least once, down from 41.6 percent in 2010. High school seniors reporting smoking at least one cigarette a day or more decreased to 8.3 percent, down from 11.3 percent in 2010. Levels of cigarette smoking also declined among ninth graders but remained unchanged among seventh graders.

Among 12th graders, in addition to decreases with alcohol and cigarettes, decreases in the lifetime prevalence of use occurred with smokeless tobacco, non-prescribed prescription opioids and tranquilizers, heroin, Ritalin, over-the-counter stay awake/weight loss agents, inhalants and nitrous oxide, cocaine HCl and dextromethorphan (DXM). Rates remained essentially unchanged for crack cocaine, steroids, hallucinogens and methamphetamine. Increases were noted for MDMA/ecstasy and amphetamine. The directions of the ninth grade prevalence rates are virtually the same as those for the 12th grade. An increase, from 4.8 percent to 5.9 percent in marijuana use was noted among seventh graders, while the use of other drugs declined or remained essentially the same as in 2010.

New for DADS in 2012 were questions about the use of synthetic cannabinoids, salvia divinorum and “bath salts,” drugs that are known for their somewhat to very unpredictable effects. At times available online or in smoke shops or convenience stores, these drugs are now illegal in Ohio. The lifetime prevalence of synthetic cannabinoid use among 12th graders was 15.5 percent, with annual use rate at 11.7 percent — essentially the same as national annual prevalence data. Virtually all of the synthetic cannabinoid users had a history of marijuana use. Nearly two-thirds of them were boys. The lifetime prevalence of salvia use was 4.6 percent, with annual use at 2.6 percent — lower than what has been reported nationally. “Bath salts” lifetime prevalence was 1.5 percent, with annual prevalence at 1.2 percent. There are no comparable national data for “bath salt” use among teens.

High school seniors were queried about drug use and motor vehicle behaviors. When asked if they had ridden in a motor vehicle when they believed the driver was under the influence of alcohol or other non-medical drugs (other than caffeine or tobacco), 42.7 percent said they had. When asked if they had driven a motor vehicle while under the influence, 24.2 percent reported they had. Of those who reported having driven under the influence, 55.7 percent said that had done so more than once or twice.

By the time 12th graders in the 2012 DADS sample neared the end of their high school careers, 48.1 percent reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes, while 30.6 percent reported having used an illicit drug other than marijuana at least once. In contrast, 28.1 percent of high school seniors reported never having used alcohol, tobacco, or any illicit drugs. Essentially equal proportions of girls and boys were abstemious.

The 2012 DADS included CRAFFT, a six-item screening test for clinically-defined problematic drug use. Data from 12th grade students responding to CRAFFT suggests that 17.5 percent of them have had or currently engage in substance use practices indicative of drug dependence. The prevalence of problematic use remains unchanged from 2010. (More information about CRAFFT scores and the DADS is available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22494092).

The DADS covered non-drug issues, too. Results show:

  • 28.4 percent of seventh graders, 24.2 percent of ninth graders, and 16 percent of 12th graders felt bullied by other teens in the 30 days before the survey;
  • 12.6 percent of seventh graders, 10.5 percent of ninth graders, and 7.1 percent of 12th graders got into a physical fight with someone in the 30 days before the survey;
  • 4.5 percent of seventh graders, 4.6 percent of ninth graders, and 11.4 percent of 12th graders missed school without the permission of a parent or guardian in the 30 days before the survey;
  • 55.4 percent of 12th graders were employed outside of the home or school;
  • About 84 percent of seventh graders, 86 percent of ninth graders and 89 percent of 12th graders considered themselves to be happy or very happy with their lives, while the remainder considered themselves to be unhappy or very unhappy.

It is important to note that the DADS was administered in late winter and early spring of 2012, so the prevalence data may have changed by the end of the school year in June. It is also important to note that the schools participating in the DADS were not randomly selected, they selected themselves. This limits the generalizability of the results. Nevertheless, given the level of student participation, the number of school districts participating and the geographic distribution of the participating districts, there is good reason to think the DADS results are a reasonable estimate of drug use practices among suburban young people in the Dayton area. Lastly, aside from tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and some pills and products, i.e., those pills whose identity is readily apparent, such as brand name DXM or methylphenidate or products that come in labeled packages, students’ self-reports of use of less easily identifiable drugs, like cocaine and heroin, should be viewed with at least some skepticism since young people may well not know what they actually used.

Since the DADS was first administered in 1990 several trends can be identified. First, alcohol and tobacco use have decreased dramatically. Second, even though its use has increased and decreased and increased, the lifetime prevalence of marijuana use is essentially the same now as it was in 1990. Third, the non-prescribed use of prescription opioids and tranquilizers has increased dramatically but their use is confined to a relatively small minority of young people. All things considered (see some of our previous relevant research at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12357910?dopt=Abstract), the data suggest that efforts to prevent teen drug use have met with mixed success. Thus, we again point out the need to implement on-going drug abuse prevention programs in the schools that extend beyond the ninth grade, when such efforts often end. The rationale for such a recommendation is based on the fact that school is the place where large numbers of young people congregate and the strong evidence that initiation of drug use continues throughout the high school years. DADS data have repeatedly shown that the percentage of teens who will get drunk for the first time will double between the ninth and 12th grades. Marijuana use also doubles. Implementing and sustaining evidence-based, public health-oriented prevention programs can help reduce the rate of erosion of abstinence as well as decrease drug-related problems among young people.