In light of a new survey conducted by the nonprofit Rise Above Colorado, state leaders have expressed concerns about growing trends in teen substance use, particularly in teens’ misconceptions about vaping.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while smoking is on the decline, young Coloradans are vaping nicotine at twice the U.S. average.
“The growth of vaping is an example of how developing threats demand increased youth prevention education,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement. “The new research demonstrates that this effort needs to start at earlier ages and requires all of us – parents, educators, civic leaders and youth themselves – to work to mitigate the risks and reinforce positive factors that protect our youth.”
The study was commissioned by Rise Above Colorado, a state nonprofit that addresses teen drug misuse and addiction, with support from a grant under the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health. It built off previous studies conducted since 2009 and most recently in 2016.
To conduct the study, HealthCare Research gathered responses from a total of 604 young people, with 291 interviews conducted over the phone and 313 online. With this sample size, the maximum margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points, according to the researchers. This margin of error remained constant from the 2016 survey, in which 607 teens were interviewed, according to Rise Above officials.
To get an accurate state representation, they established quotas by region, looking to reach an appropriate number of teens based on respective areas’ population.
The study highlighted teenage misperceptions about vaping. Of the surveyed youths, 78 percent said they used nicotine-free flavoring. However, nearly all vape products sold at convenience stores, including JUUL products, contain nicotine, according to Rise Above, meaning that the respondents might have misinformation.
Other findingsFor Coloradans ages 12 to 17, alcohol is the most commonly used substance, followed by marijuana. Teens’ perceptions of either substance as risky are continuing to decrease.On a more positive trend, more youths recognized the dangers of prescription pain relievers like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin than in 2016.
The study also evaluated teenagers’ perceptions of their peers’ substance use, important because when young people believe their schoolmates are using substances at high rates, their own usage may increase.According to the survey, more middle school students have increasingly accurate perceptions of their peers’ substance use. Overestimation of peers’ substance use declined by over 20 percent for all substances except marijuana, which remained constant.
A majority of high school students, though, are overestimating their schoolmates’ marijuana use – at 92 percent, an increase from 2016.
Youth marijuana use didn’t change significantly in the past few years, though young people reported that pot has become easier to get. In the latest survey, one in four youth respondents said they had experienced six or more difficult mental health days during the month before, and these respondents were much more likely to have tried alcohol, marijuana and prescription pain relievers.
Rise Above Colorado advocates for more education about the risks of substance use, especially considering that 90 percent of addictions begin in teenage years, and that fewer respondents reported having received substance-use education at school compared with 2016.“While there are concerning challenges, the data show us that we have a great opportunity to help equip our youth with the tools to make good decisions,” Kent MacLennan, the nonprofit’s executive director, said in a statement accompanying the study.
They added that the transition from middle to high school is a critical point for intervention, since that’s when access to drugs increases.
Fewer respondents reported having received substance use education at school compared with 2016.