Dr. Nora Volkow: Reaching the American Teenager During National Drug Facts Week

As the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), I interact with a variety of audiences, including scientists, prevention and treatment specialists, and the general public. But one particularly important audience (and often the most difficult to reach) is the American teenager. Getting our messages to teens is more urgent than ever. After a decade-long decline in teen drug use, the overall rates appear to have stabilized and have even started to creep upward for some drugs of abuse. The 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey shows, for example, significant increases in daily marijuana use across all three grades surveyed (8th, 10th and 12th). Abuse of prescription medications remains unacceptably high for teens; six of the top 10 illicit drugs abused by 12th-graders in the past year were prescribed or purchased over the counter.

To reach more teens with our messages, four years ago, NIDA held its first live web “chat” between scientists and teens from schools across the country. Forty NIDA scientists and staff sat at rows of computers and answered teens’ questions about drugs. We anticipated about a thousand questions but instead received more than 8,000 questions in the first hour, temporarily disabling our system. By the end of the day, teens had submitted more than 36,000 questions to the Chat.

This overwhelming response clearly demonstrated to us that teens have an acute interest in speaking with scientists about drugs, perhaps because they are seeking unbiased, factual answers. Today, our annual “Drug Facts Chat Day” is held every fall, with even more experts participating, including those from other National Institutes of Health entities. Continual improvements have made the experience more engaging and allowed us to better manage the demand.

Building on this successful outreach strategy and the call for similar local events, in November 2010, NIDA expanded the scientist-to-teen exchange around the country by launching National Drug Facts Week with federal and private-sector partners. The first year stimulated more than 100 drug abuse education events nationwide, which connected teens with scientists in their communities. The week also included an innovative contest sponsored by MusiCares and the Grammy Foundation, which encouraged teens to submit music videos, lyrics or compositions celebrating healthy and creative living or accurately portraying the dangers of drug abuse. The top three winners were flown to Los Angeles for a rehearsal of the 2010 Grammy awards show and had the opportunity to meet their musical heroes backstage. This contest was held again this year and the winner will be announced as part of NIDA’s second annual Drug Facts Chat Week, beginning October 31.

Those who wish to design and hold events in their communities can register on NIDA’s website to receive booklets and web links intended to guide their efforts, including eliciting the participation of experts and other supporters (see “How To” toolkit at drugfactsweek.drugabuse.gov).

It is important for teens to see their community embrace healthy living messages, and it is heartening that participation has already surpassed that of last year. Events can be as simple as assembling teens to take NIDA’s National Drug IQ Challenge or to listen to the winners of the music contest. Visit the National Drug Facts Week website today to help plan an event for this special week.

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    April 26, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    Perhaps others can regioncze that addiction has a permanent end as we have found with our clients. When children or adults are given a disease theory , they will be symptomatic. When they are tagged an addict , they will so be. When thrown to the wolves of the 12 Step Heretical programs, they will fall down the entire staircase. Isn’t it time for a change? Isn’t it time to regioncze that addiction has an end? Isn’t it time to tell all about the beginnings of the 12 Step propaganda? Isn’t it time to relate to others that Bill Willson (founder of AA) was a dark spiritist and drug addict who was spoken to by the dead to begin AA? Isn’t it time to wrap your brain around the fact that AA is the #1 enabler of addiction? Isn’t it time to grasp the fact that the Steppers will fall 97% of the time based on AA stats alone? Isn’t it time to see the rehab swinging door? Isn’t it time to WAKE UP & bring in a refreshing breath of clean air to those in addiction? Isn’t it time to stop using humans enslaved to addiction, in order to supply the green stuff to the medical/psych community? Isn’t it time to know that addiction is a choice not a disease? SHAME ON YOU ALL who abuse people’s minds & spirits by telling them there is no end!!!Isn’t it time for a change?

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    Phillip Good

    November 4, 2011 at 12:35 AM

    Don’t you think a national database could help flag the people who are showing abusing prescription drugs and possibly get them help earlier. My son was prescribed Ritalin at 12 and 10 years later died from an overdose due to addiction to this schedule 2 drug. How do doctors think it is smart to use stimulants for ADD and ADHD? The patient will build a resistence and need an increased dosage. There is no plan to stop medicating them. The medication goes on forever. My son told me I would not be able to stop him from getting it. He knew too many ways. He called it a curse, and asked why I ever gave it to him. I told him the doctors advised us to to help him. A doctor tripled his dosage in 2008.Sean died on Nov 4, 2009 just 7 days after getting kicked out of Memorial Herman PaRC rehab 22 days in. He died in the parking lot in a hell hole of a halfway house. This is a horrible disease that may continue in cycles till they die. Please help to ban this stimulant treatment and put the kids in special classes instead. There brains are young and changing, don’t use drugs and damage their brain beyond repair. Do your job, use your gift, save some lives.

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    October 31, 2011 at 8:13 AM

    Sure, it is an excellent Idea in light of the fact that the adults who were in the schools delivering this message first hand are be cut from budgets at a breakneck pace. New Jersey being the leader in the cut, cut ,cut race. Probably be the leader to complaine when the dung hits the fan and the cuts catch up.

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    Steve Castleman

    October 28, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    I agree with Dr. Volkow that teens “are seeking unbiased, factual answers” about drugs. Events like “Drug Facts Chat Day” are important, but teens (and their parents) need access to unbiased, factual information about drugs and addiction that’s accessible all day every day. They need to be armed with knowledge about the disease of addiction: what parts of the brain are affected by drugs; how addiction develops; why some people get addicted, while others don’t; etc.

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