Chris Uggen's Blog: drug use (mostly) declining, but boomers keep truckin'

Monday, March 03, 2008

drug use (mostly) declining, but boomers keep truckin'

president bush released the 2008 national drug control strategy this weekend. the table at left uses data from the venerable monitoring the future study to establish a six-year decline in prevalence rates for the most common licit and illicit drugs.

i was a bit skeptical of this chart at first, since it only shows two years, the mtf only samples in-school youth, and it seems hinky to pool respondents in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade. nevertheless, the downward trend is real -- especially since the peaks of the mid-1990s.

the most recent mtf press release indicates steep declines in marijuana, speed, and meth, alcohol, and cigarettes. drugs "holding steady" from 2006-2007 include powder and crack cocaine, lsd, heroin, ecstasy, steroids, and most of the prescription-type drugs such as oxycontin and vicodin. still, prevalence rates for these drugs were well off their earlier peaks as well.

one finding from the introduction to the national drug control strategy might be of interest to demographers: figure 4. baby boomers are carrying higher rates of drug use with them as they age. i can't link directly to the figure, but here's the accompanying text:

One of the more disturbing data trends identified in the past several years is a dramatic rise in current drug use among adults aged 50-54 (see Figure 4). This trend does not necessarily mean that people are taking up drug use as they enter middle age, but rather that a segment of the population that experienced high rates of drug use in their youth continue to carry high rates of use with them as they get older. While drug use is a burden that the baby boomer generation has borne into middle age, the generation coming of age today will benefit from comparatively lower rates of drug use for the rest of their lives.

this seems like a classic age/cohort/period illustration that might be useful in the classroom. when i report substance use data from the late-1970s and early-1980s, i now tell students that many drugs were more prevalent in their parents' high schools in 1982 than in their own high schools in 2007. i sometimes have difficulty convincing the students of this, which is sort of sweet. when they do believe me, however, i advise them to repeat my lecture around the dinner table at a big family gathering -- you know, like when grandma and grandpa are in the room. that way, both the kids and the elders can have a little fun with the baked-est generation.


At 7:29 PM, Blogger Woz said...

"the baked-est generation"

tell me you came up with that...brilliant

At 10:37 PM, Blogger Mike W said...

I'm unsurprised by the numbers for Heroin and LSD, but I am very skeptical of the 64% drop for meth. I truly believe that is way off the mark.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

glad you dig my stuff, woz.

mike, the base rates are low for meth in the mtf data. for high school seniors, lifetime prevalence had been 8% in 1999, which fell to only 3% as of 2007. my sense is that meth is highly regionalized, but overall it is dropping -- and has dropped almost every year from 1999-2007.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Amanda said...

Hi there,

Just wanted to let you know that we have a link to your site up on the MobLogic blog post today.

Our show looks at a report that was released last month that said ecstasy laced with meth is all the rage in high schools.

On the blog, we look at our culture's obsession with fear, and whether the war on drugs ever had a chance of working.

Stop by, check it out if you have the time. We'd love to hear your opinion.

At 11:00 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

thanks, amanda -- good stuff.


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