By Kimberly Leonard
U.S. News
December 13, 2016

High school students are trying opioids like prescription painkillers and heroin less and less, a new study shows, even amid an opioid epidemic that’s contributing to an alarming number of deaths in America.

According to the latest “Monitoring the Future” study released Tuesday by the government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, the rate of high school seniors who within the last year had tried narcotics other than heroin – namely, prescription pain relievers like OxyContin – declined by about half from what it was 12 years ago.

Usage in the last two and a half decades reached a peak of 9.5 percent in 2004, then declined to a rate of 4.8 percent in 2016. A similar rate had not been observed since 1995.

Experts aren’t certain what is driving the trend, though high school students have shown a decline in risky behavior overall for about a decade. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the results on opioids “remarkable” and “wonderful,” and says researchers are trying to understand the cause behind the decline so public health officials can sustain the progress.

Samuel Ball, president and CEO of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, says it’s difficult to point a finger at a main cause, though shifting attitudes may have had an impact.

For example, he says, teens may be watching people in their 20s become addicted to opioids and even die from them, providing clear warning signs about their danger.

“You can’t point to any one factor, especially considering that rates have decreased just a bit every year,” Ball says. “You hope they’re getting the message that these drugs can be deadly, that parents are doing a better job of taking a look of what’s in their medicine cabinets, but it’s hard to say.”

Indeed, outside researchers say results from the NIDA survey, which involved 45,473 students from 372 public and private schools, should be looked at with a few caveats and with caution.

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