Analysis Suggests Drug Use Delinquency Among Adolescents May Be Declining

With so much being written about the opioid epidemic, overdose, and the mortality rate from fentanyl-adulterated heroin, it appears the overall use of drugs, crime and violence among teens may be declining. Nothing is definitive as of yet, but analysis by Grucza, et al (Oct., 2017) has shown that a complicated, multifactorial trend of unknown protective factors may be emerging.

A Ray of Hope?

Trends in substance use disorders and numerous delinquent behaviors culled from the National SAsk the Experturvey on Drug Use and Health, a representative survey of the household population in the U.S., between 2003-2014 (N = 210 599) were analyzed. The results suggest a process whereby inherited traits, interacting with both endogenous and exogenous risk and protective factors, conspired to create externalizing behaviors across adolescent development. Identifying specific factors contributing to this trend may yield valuable prevention strategies for high risk behaviors and possible treatments for identified pathologies.

The most encouraging trend suggested a net decline of 49% in the “mean” number of substance use disorders among adolescents and a 34% decline in delinquent behaviors over the 12-year period. However, the statistical average, or “mean,” a simple stat, is not a reliable predictor without adjusting for numerous confounding variables using sophisticated regression analysis.

Conflicting Evidence

As I recently reported (RYCU November 2017), overall adolescent mortality from a variety of causes including drug overdose as well as the highest child and adolescent suicide rate in our history remains a crisis. Depression and anxiety disorders among this population are also at unprecedented levels. Teen tobacco smoking is very low and decreasing. But smoking of highly potent marijuana plus declining belief in its harmful effects among all age groups is alarming. Cannabis smoking, vaping, cocaine use, methamphetamine use, ketamine use and the use of psychedelic drugs appear to be increasing. The Grucza data are excellent and important. But, it is difficult to know if we are seeing a major change or just a version of the game “whack-a-mole.” Time and much more serious scientific investigation will ultimately decide.