Another viewpoint: Hopeful trend on substance abuse by youth

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

The past two years have not produced an overwhelming amount of positives. The COVID- 19 pandemic leaves few silver linings. Yet, one byproduct of the circumstances offers hope.

The 2022 Indiana Youth Survey shows the past two years have seen the largest drops in substance abuse among Hoosier middle and high school-age kids in more than 30 years. The poll encompasses much of the state and has a long record of credibility dating back to the 1990s. Researchers at Prevention Insights – a unit of the Indiana University School of Public Health – studied the responses of more than 90,000 students in grades 6 through 12 from 323 schools statewide.

Student responses indicated use of alcohol by high school seniors, in the month prior to taking the survey, was down 39.8 percentage points from 1991. Alcohol use by 12th-graders peaked that year at 59.7%. This year’s survey showed cigarette use by 11th-graders was 37.3 percentage points lower than the 1996 peak of 40.1%. Likewise, marijuana use by sophomores was down 16.5 percentage points from 24.9% in 1996, the highest level in survey history.

Students in grades 7 through 12 also reported lower uses of electronic vaping products and prescription drugs not prescribed to them this year, compared to 2020. Those students also perceived a decreased level of availability this year, compared to 2020, of most substances, including cocaine, LSD and amphetamines.

Of course, almost everything that has occurred during the pandemic comes with an asterisk. Supplies of all kinds of products, even those obtained illegally, have been disrupted. Interactions have also been changed and irregular.

“The pandemic has disrupted adolescents’ daily lives and may have prevented youth from accessing substances,” Ruth Gassman, senior scientist at IU School of Public Health and executive director of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, said in a news release.

Thus, the researchers will be watching the trends leading up to the next Indiana Youth Survey in 2024. Jon Agley, the deputy director at Prevention Insights, said the 2022 results look positive, “but it’s unclear whether these trends will continue.” Another variable could be the Food and Drug Administration’s recent ban on Juul vaping products.

The vigilance of adults in the lives of young Hoosiers could determine whether youth substance abuse remains at lower levels. Parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, church and organization leaders can influence decisions made by kids and teenagers. Those adults, as well as teens, can find guidance on preventing abuse of alcohol and other substances from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration online at https://bit.ly/3zumW1e. That assistance could help make the difference in keeping this particular trend of 2020 to 2022 ongoing.

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