LANSING The amount of alcohol abuse among teenagers dropped over the past decade, but drug abuse continued to go up, say health specialists in Michigan.
"Upward abuse among teenagers is mostly seen in treatment for opiates, marijuana and prescription drugs," said Deborah Hollis, director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse and Addiction Services at Department of Community Health.
According to the bureau, over the last decade the rate of alcohol abuse per thousand adolescents aged 12 to 17 dropped by 27 percent while drug abuse, especially marijuana, increased by 20 percent in four years.
The most commonly used drugs include K2 "synthetic marijuana," cocaine, heroin, inhalants, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication.
Tonya Collins, prevention coordinator at the Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said reasons for expanded marijuana use are easy access and the perceived small risk associated with the drug.
"The general problem is the root cause, the low perception of danger seen in marijuana. Even the general public is not dealing with marijuana as an edgy drug but as a way to medicate yourself. It is becoming more and more available, both legally and illegally," Collins said.
Collins noted that the concept of "medical marijuana" also makes teenagers believe that it will not harm them.
"If the teenager sees the drug is legally used for medical purposes and people can actually receive a prescription for it, they presume it is safe. However, they don't realized that the human mind doesn't fully develop until 21 to 24 years old. They are just killing their brain cells," she said.
Studies show marijuana use rising both within the state and across the nation. The "Monitoring the Future" survey by the University of Michigan among 8th, 10th and 12th grade students last year found that between 200711 the proportion of marijuana users increased from 21.4 to 25 percent.
Along with marijuana, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication are the most common among teenagers, the study found.
Marie Helveston, prevention services coordinator of the Northern Michigan Substance Abuse Services based in Gaylord, said abuse of prescription drugs among teenagers is increasing in Northern Michigan.
"It is an easy target for experimentation by youth. They can access their parents' and grandparents' medication at home. They have access to over-the-counter medications," she said.
"In some cases, people, out of their good nature, tend to share their prescribed medication for headaches or pain relief that could cause a serious harm," Helveston said.
Helvestons's agency serves residents of 30 counties including Alpena, Emmet, Traverse City, Cheboygan, Mason, Manistee, Wexford and Gladwin.
The agency formed a regional task force to collect data on drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers in all 30 counties and to conduct intervention programs through schools.
Like other substance abuse centers around the state, it conducts awareness-raising programs about the severity of prescription medication abuse.
The mixture of prescription drugs with alcohol is another major concern among health specialists.
Teresa Pizialli, a youth service program supervisor at the Great Lakes Recovery Centers Inc. in Marquette, said her agency had several cases that ended with fatal results.
"Unfortunately, we had a couple of years when clients possibly overdosed or mixed illicit drugs and prescription drugs with alcohol that caused death. But we are glad to see that, in general, alcohol abuse among teenagers is starting to decline," Pizialli said.
Health specialists say a contributing factor to lower alcohol abuse is less availability to youth, zero tolerance laws for drivers under 21 and restrictions on alcohol promotions to youth.
The U of M survey indicated that teens' alcohol abuse declined across the nation.
In the last decade, the proportion of eighth graders reporting alcohol use in a 30-day period fell from 25 to 13 percent. Among tenth graders it fell from 43 to 27 percent. Among twelfth graders, it fell from 54 to 40 percent.
State and federal funding has helped many substance abuse and prevention programs to conduct treatment and awareness-raising campaigns, according to Pizialli.
"Unfortunately, the funding declined over the years and we have to shrink our services," she said.
Kara Thomas, prevention coordinator at the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, said her agency has lost almost 80 percent of its funding since 2000.
"Economically, the majority of the population lives under the poverty line in Detroit. Most of our clients are on Medicaid. The federal funding cuts hit our treatment services and our prevention programs severely," she said.
According to Thomas the Detroit agency closely collaborates with local residents and churches that conduct many education prevention campaigns on their own.
"We try to provide all the necessary information or send out staff members there to work with the youth," Thomas said.