OTC Cough Medicine Misuse Rates Remain Relatively Low – Latest Monitoring the Future Results

2022 marked the 48th year of data collection by Monitoring the Future (MTF). Back in 1975, MTF began conducting in-school surveys for students in eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades asking them to self-report their substance use over various time periods (past month, past 12 months, and lifetime). The purpose was to understand the ages (changes at similar ages seen across multiple class cohorts), periods (changes that are parallel over a number of years across multiple age groups [in this case, all three grades under study)], and cohort effects (substance use behaviors or attitudes that distinguish a class cohort from others that came before or after them) of substance use and related attitudes.

“The MTF survey is one of the best and most timely tools we have to monitor and understand changes in substance use among young people over time, including through historic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., National Institute on Drug Abuse director.

Last year, levels of teen substance misuse declined significantly across a number of substances that were surveyed, including over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. These decreases are believed to be partly caused by the school closures and social distancing instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reported substance misuse remained near pre-pandemic levels for all grades.

The 2022 survey; however, revealed slightly different results. See reported rates of OTC medicine misuse in 2022 below:

  • 3.2% of eighth graders reported misuse, which is about midway between the all-time low of 2% recorded in 2015 and the all-time high of 4.6% recorded in 2020. This number is down 0.3% from last year.
  • 3.9% of tenth graders reported misuse, which is an increase from a low of 2.7% in 2021 to a level of 3.9%, where it had been eight years earlier.
  • 2.4% of twelfth graders reported misuse, which is up from 1.7% in 2021, but it was the second-lowest level ever recorded by this grade group in the survey, with the lowest level being 1.7% in 2021.

If you’re wondering whether this survey sample was nationally representative, rest assured: The data were statistically weighted to represent national numbers. This year, 47% of the twelfth-grade students identified as white, 22% as Hispanic, 11% as African American, 5% as Asian, 1% as American Indian or Alaska Native, 1% as Middle Eastern, and 14% as more than one of the preceding categories. Regarding gender, 48% of 12th grade students identified as male, 47% identified as female, 1% identified as other, and 4% selected the “prefer not to answer” option.

Regarding the misuse of substances other than OTC medicine, the MTF survey discovered that adolescent use of cannabis and nicotine vaping is down from last year, but adolescent use of alcohol has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Stop Medicine Abuse is encouraged that OTC medicine abuse rates remain relatively low, but these survey results certainly show that there’s still work to be done. Thank you for your continued support in prevention.

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