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Article Summary

Teen Ecstasy Use

Teen Ecstasy Use Cut by 25 Percent from Peak as Trend Reverses; Three-Quarters of a Million Fewer Teens Using "Love Drug"

National data show across-the-board declines in teenagers using various drugs; Lower drug use among teenagers exposed frequently to anti-drug campaigns

Drop in Teen Ecstasy Use

Teen use of Ecstasy (methylenedioxy-methamphetamine or MDMA) has dropped by 25 percent in two years, according to new national data released today by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The declines translates into 770,000 fewer teenagers using Ecstasy over the last two years.

"Teenagers are internalizing the message about the risks of Ecstasy, the popularity of this drug is abating and, as a result, three quarters of a million fewer teenagers are experimenting with MDMA," said Steve Pasierb, president & CEO of the Partnership. "Ecstasy use is reversing, but the threat remains: Last year, two million teenagers in America tried Ecstasy. We can—and we must— kick this drug while it's down, and kick it down further."

In recent years, teen Ecstasy use increased by 71 percent1 while all other drug use remained unchanged. Responding to the increase, the Partnership launched the first comprehensive campaign specifically targeting Ecstasy. After two years and at least $30 million in media exposure, tracking data suggest the effort has contributed to changes in teen attitudes and behavior. Data released today shows Ecstasy use significantly lower among teenagers frequently exposed to anti-drug messages.2 (The decline in Ecstasy use and observations about anti-drug media campaigns are supported by authors of another major drug tracking study, released in December.3)

Released today in New York, data from the 2003 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) finds teen drug use declining steadily in America, driven by improvements in key anti-drug attitudes.

The study, conducted for the Partnership by RoperASW under grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, interviewed 7,270 adolescents nationwide. (Data are nationally projectable with a +/- 1.5 percent margin of error.) Data report significant declines in teen use of marijuana, Ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamine, as well as noteworthy declines in the number of teenagers using alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Use of cocaine and heroin is unchanged, according to the data. Three areas of concern surfaced in the report: misuse of prescription drugs, inhalant abuse and parent-child communication. (See key findings document.)

"In addition to the good news on Ecstasy, the overall trend is quite encouraging," Pasierb said. The data indicate illicit drug usage among teens has declined from 51 percent in 1998 to 46 percent in 2003. Had this decline not occurred, Pasierb said, 1.2 million more teens would be using illicit drugs than is currently the case - 12 million rather than the current 10.8 million. "Kids are clearly accepting, on their own terms, information about the risks of a variety of drugs," he said. "More and more teens are deciding not to use drugs. Clearly, more young people believe that the risks outweigh the benefits."

Education Efforts Contributing to Positive Trend

According to the study, the percentage of teens reporting seeing or hearing anti-drug ads over the past five years has increased by 63 percent - from 32 percent to 52 percent. More teens appear to be internalizing the information anti-drug ads have to offer. The number of teens reporting having learned a lot about the risks of drugs from anti-drug ads has increased from one in five teens (20 percent) in 1998 to one in three (33 percent) last year.

Importantly, the data suggest these media-based education efforts are influencing teen attitudes and behavior. Teens frequently exposed to anti-drug ads report significantly stronger anti-drug attitudes (see table/chart below), and in some cases, lower drug use. Importantly, attitudes influence drug-related behavior— i.e., as more teens come to view drug use as risky, fewer choose to use drugs. The data show substantial increases in teens who see risks associated with marijuana and Ecstasy.

Researchers also attributed declines in marijuana use to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Coordinated through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, this federally-funded media campaign has focused intensely on delivering messages about the risks of marijuana, the most widely used illicit drug in America. Last year, the campaign placed more than $130 million in advertising messages in paid media exposure throughout the country. "Changes in teen attitudes about marijuana have not occurred accidentally," Pasierb said. "Data from our survey—and others as well4— show strong correlations between exposure to tough messages about marijuana and changes in attitudes. The attitudinal data suggest these educational campaigns are contributing to declines in marijuana use."

Areas of Concern

Researchers pointed to three areas of concern, per the study: 1) Inhalant abuse: Fewer kids are seeing risk in using inhalants to get high, and the data report an up-tick in inhalant abuse. Erosion in key risk attitudes suggest more increases are possible. 2) Misuse of prescription drugs. Some 21 percent of teenagers—1 in every 5— report using a prescription drug without a doctor's order.5 And 3) Parent-child communication at home. Only one in three teenagers (32 percent) report learning a lot about the risks of drugs at home.

The Partnership's campaign targeting Ecstasy continues, and recently received a significant boost from Comcast, the nation's largest cable television provider. Comcast has committed $50 million over three years to air Partnership anti-drug ads on its cable systems nationwide, but much more is needed.

"While we're pleased with the remarkable decrease in Ecstasy use, new drug threats emerge regularly," Pasierb said. "We must stay focused on the continual need to educate new generations of kids about the risks of drugs, while finding new ways to engage parents in educating teens about drugs thoroughly and convincingly."

The full Partnership Attitude Tracking Study is available on the Web at www.drugfreeamerica.org. The Partnership encourages parents to call 1-866-XTC-FACTS for a free brochure on the risks of Ecstasy available in English and Spanish.

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