Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meth Replacing Marijuana as Teens Drug of Choice

They sit at a cafeteria table, gossiping and snacking during a school field trip. "Have you seen him? Has he gained the weight back?" one girl asks. 

"Yeah, he looked so good," replies another from across the table. "His cheeks filled in."

It's no casual lunchtime conversation. The teen they're talking about is a recovering methamphetamine addict. So are several of the teens at the table.  

In Minnesota, like most of America, is home to a new trend: many young people and experts who monitor drug use agree that meth is steadily replacing marijuana as the teenage drug of choice.

"Meth is the thing -- it's what everybody wants to do," says Anthony, 17, a student at Sobriety High School in St. Paul who first tried meth at age 13 and has been in recovery since he overdosed last summer. He and other students  were allowed to speak on condition that their last names not be used.

While statistics show that meth use among teens and middle-school students has been level for the last few years, experts caution that the numbers can be deceiving, because meth seems to spread in pockets, leaving some regions or populations relatively untouched while others are devastated.

"Meth is an oddball in that way," says Caleb Banta-Green, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington's Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute. "You never know where it's going to hit."

But when it does, it often hits hard -- with few states evading meth's reach.

In Nebraska, two 20-year-olds who were high on meth froze to death after getting lost in a snowstorm in January. In Oregon, officials recently reported that meth is second only to marijuana -- surpassing alcohol -- as the drug that sends the most teens to treatment there.

Nebraska and Oregon are among the nearly two dozen states that have entrenched meth problems, most of them in the West and Midwest, according to state-by-state advisories that the Drug Enforcement Administration released this year.

"It's here and it's ravaging our kids," says Dave Ettesvold, a drug counselor at two high schools in the St. Paul area.

In Minnesota, one-fifth of addicts who entered treatment for meth use last year were younger than 18, according to Carol Falkowski, a researcher at the nonprofit Hazelden Foundation, who tracks the state's drug trends for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Another recent state survey found that about one-fourth of girls and one-fifth of boys  had used meth at least once in the last year. Ten percent had used it 10 times or more.

The problem, according to many experts, is  pervasive and often evading  parent's scrutiny.  

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