The "Monitoring the Future" study, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that American teens' use of illegal drugs has fallen more than 23 percent since 2001, and underage use of alcohol and cigarettes has similarly declined.
"The broad nature of these declines across multiple drugs and alcohol and cigarettes ... is a kind of youth movement for the good," said John Walters, director of the National Drug Control Policy. "This shows us that we can as a society push back and make a difference. When we do that effectively together it has enormous beneficial consequences not only for our children now, but for the rest of their lives."
However, an increase in abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications has left anti-drug campaigners confused as to how to combat the problem of legal drugs. Nearly one in 10 high school seniors reported using the prescription painkiller Vicodin without a prescription, while roughly one in 20 said they had used Oxycontin without a prescription.
A recent study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that one out of every five teenagers 12 to 17 years old had purposely abused a prescription drug, while one in 10 said they'd intentionally abused over-the-counter medications, such as cough syrup.
"The traditional prevention messages become somewhat confused because there are clearly some circumstances under which these medications are wonderful," said Dr. David Rosenbloom, director of Join Together, a Boston-based nonprofit research organization. "So it's got to be a much more nuanced message and as a practical matter, prevention curricula are still focused on alcohol and illicit drugs."
According to Walters, parents play a critical role in combating teenagers' legal prescription drug abuse. "Go to your medicine cabinet, take unused prescription [medications] and throw them away," he said.