According to the HHS, results from the annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey indicate an almost seven percent decline of any illicit drug use in the past month by 8th, 10th and 12th graders combined from 2003 to 2004.
Trend analysis from 2001 to 2004 revealed a 17 percent cumulative decline in drug use, and an 18 percent cumulative drop in marijuana use in the past month.
"These positive findings demonstrate the commitment by many, including researchers, federal agencies, states, parents, teachers, local communities and teens themselves to work together to reduce drug use among our youth," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "We need to continue our efforts to educate parents and teens about the consequences of drug abuse."
The MTF survey is designed to to measure drug, alcohol and cigarette use and related attitudes among 8th, 10th and 12th grade students nationwide.
This year, 49,474 students from 406 public and private schools participated in the survey, which is overseen by NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and conducted by the University of Michigan. Survey participants report their drug use behaviors across three time periods: lifetime, past year, and past month.
"There are now 600,000 fewer teens using drugs than there were in 2001," said John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. "This is real progress.
"We know that if we can prevent kids from trying drugs in their teenage years, we dramatically reduce the likelihood that they will go on to have problems later in life. The results released today are good news for American parents and teens, and great news for our country."
The positive findings comparing 2004 to 2003 related to individual drugs show:
In 2004, lifetime cigarette smoking decreased in 10th graders, following declines in lifetime use in all grades from 2002 to 2003.
There was also evidence of a decrease in heavier smoking among 10th graders with a significant decline in smoking one pack of cigarettes or more per day.
The survey noted some areas that raise concern. For example, while the rates of Vicodin abuse did not change significantly from 2003 to 2004, Vicodin was used by 9.3 percent of 12th graders, 6.2 percent of 10th graders and 2.5 percent of 8th graders in the past year.
OxyContin was used in the past year by 5 percent of 12th graders, 3.5 percent in 10th graders and 1.7 percent of 8th graders in 2004.
These rates were not significantly different from the rates in 2003; however, when all three grades were combined, there was a significant increase in past year OxyContin use between 2002 and 2004.
"We're pleased that the survey indicates that overall drug use is continuing to decline.
However, it does show an increase in the use of painkillers.
We need to target children and young people and warn them about the dangers of abusing these powerful medicines that can help those who need them and can potentially harm those who take them without talking to their doctors first," said NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni.