The Chart

Teen drug use highest among Native Americans; Asians lowest

White, Hispanic, Native American and mixed-race teenagers have higher rates of substance use and abuse than African American and Asian teens according to a new study in the Archives of General Psychiatry. They also are affected more by substance-related disorders.

"This study is an alert. We would like for people to be aware of the issue and the problem and be ready, hopefully. and willing to look at ways in which we can try to turn this around," said study author Dr. Dan Blazer,  of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center. "These data should suggest to any policy-making individual that we have a real problem and that problem doesn't manifest itself equally across all groups."

Nearly 73,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were asked about their use of alcohol and nine  types of drugs–marijuana or hashish, cocaine or crack, hallucinogens, heroin, prescription opioids or pain killers like oxycodone or morphine, stimulants or amphetamines, sedatives and tranquilizers. 37%  percent admitted to drug or alcohol use in the past year, according to the study.

One in 12 teens reported having a substance-related disorder as part of the study. "The use of substances among adolescents in the U.S. is relatively high," Blazer said. "The use and the frequency of substance related disorders is fairly high in this group."

Native American youths have the highest rate of use and related disorders, African Americans and Asians the lowest.

Blazer defines the disorders as a group of symptoms that indicate a problem with a substance including interfering with school work, social functioning or a job; seeking/getting the substance increasingly takes more time and effort, becoming a main goal; the more they use these drugs, the more they need them and that so much is being taken that the teen is endangering themselves (like binge drinking and driving).

The study found marijuana was used more frequently than alcohol and the other drugs and that prescription pain killers replaced inhalants as the second most used drug of choice. Blazer called it a major public health issue.

"Use is high and the potential for having a disorder if you are using is high.  Teachers, doctors, parents and peers need to be on the lookout that this is a real problem in adolescence. Substance use disorders are difficult to treat especially if they have been using them for years."

Blazer says they don't have a clear idea why some groups have higher rates, but he says the racial, ethnic differences suggest interventions need to be culturally sensitive.