Report: Fewer high school students using drugs, having sex; increasing number feel sad, hopeless

Posted at 7:26 AM, Jun 17, 2018

The share of high school students who had sex or used drugs decreased between 2007 and 2017. At the same time, the share who said they felt sad or hopeless increased. So did the share who said they did not attend school for fear of bullying and violence.

That's according to the Centers for Disease Control's latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey report, which asks students about their experiences across six categories of topics, including tobacco and substance use, sexual behaviors, behaviors that could contribute to injuries and violence, and their exercise and dietary habits.

In releasing the report, CDC director Dr. Robert R. Redfield noted a mixture of good and bad news. "In the past decade, there have been substantial improvements in the behaviors that put students more at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. However, we can't yet declare success when so many young people are getting HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and experiencing disturbingly high rates of substance use, violence and suicide," his written statement said.

The survey, which is administered in alternate years, documents trends in youth behavior that impact the entire country and that are used to help make public policy decisions. The most recent report contains survey data from 15,000 students in 39 states. Some states don't participate in every part of the survey.

Nationally, the number of youths who said they'd ever had sex has dropped significantly in the last decade, from nearly 47.8 percent to 39.5 percent. And the number who ever used illicit drugs fell to 14 percent in 2017 compared to 22.6 percent in 2007. Boys were just slightly more likely to have used illicit drugs than were the girls, at 14.5 percent versus 13.3 percent. Overall, just 1.5 percent said they'd ever injected illegal drugs.

This report marks the first year that included a survey question about misuse of a prescription opioid, which is something 14 percent of high school students said they had done at some point. But girls were more likely to have done so than the boys, at 14.4 percent compared to 13.4 percent for boys.

Nearly a third of high school students reported long-term hopelessness and 17 percent of the youths said they'd considered suicide. During 2017, between 13 and 14 percent of students had made a plan to kill themselves, up several percent from 2007. Those numbers were higher among gay, lesbian and bisexual youths. Those youths were also more likely to have been sexually assaulted and to have avoided school over safety concerns.

One-fifth of students say they've been bullied at school. That number has been relatively flat for nearly a decade. When it comes to bullying:

• 6 percent were threatened or hurt with a weapon at school, down from 7.8 percent in 2007.

• 6.7 percent did not go to school because of safety concerns, up from 5.5 percent.

• In 2017, 14.9 percent were electronically bullied. That data was added to the survey in 2011, when 16.2 percent said they were bullied through digital devices, like phones.

Students were also asked about dating and sexual violence. The report notes that as many as 1 in 10 female students and 1 in 28 male students have been physically sexually assaulted. Overall, that's 7.4 percent, a number that has not improved since 2007.

Dating violence was added to the survey in 2013, and the latest poll found 8 percent of students who have dated someone during the past year responded that they'd experienced some type of dating violence and 6.9 percent had experienced sexual dating violence.

The new report emphasized the risks to adolescent sexual health and said youthful actions interconnect. For example, it notes that drug use, violent experiences and poor mental health are all factors that increase the risk of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

"Sexual health and STD prevention for young people are critical public health issues," according to the National Coalition of STD Directors, which released a press statement in conjunction with the national youth survey data. It said youths 15-25 years old have the highest STD rates compared to other age groups, and as many as one-fourth of adolescent girls have an STD.

By the time they're 25, half of all sexually active young adults will be infected. "If these infections aren't diagnosed and treated early, the long-term health consequences can be serious and often irreversible, especially for women," the release said.