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Mean Age at Drug Use Initiation Increasing for Many Drugs

For 12 of 18 drugs examined, including cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, mean age at initiation increased

MONDAY, March 2, 2020 (HealthDay News) — For many internationally regulated drugs, the mean age at initiation has increased since 2004, according to a research letter published online March 2 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Karl C. Alcover, Ph.D., from Washington State University in Spokane, and Christopher L. Thompson, M.D., from Peds Al Clinic in East Lansing, Michigan, examined recent trends in the mean age at initiation for 18 internationally regulated drugs using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 338,268 individuals aged 12 to 21 years.

The researchers found that 84,317 adolescents and young adults initiated use of any drug between 2004 and 2017. Since 2004, there was an increase in the mean age at initiation for 12 of the 18 drugs, including cigars, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, heroin, inhalants, marijuana, smokeless tobacco, stimulants, and tobacco cigarettes. From 2004 to 2014, there was an increase in the mean age at initiation of alcohol, but no increase was seen after 2014. For lysergic acid diethylamide, the mean age at initiation increased from 2004 to 2009, then decreased significantly. For crack cocaine, methamphetamines, opioids, phenylcyclohexyl piperidine, sedatives, and tranquilizers, no statistically significant difference in the mean age at initiation was noted.

“Drug use, including marijuana, appears to be especially harmful to developing brains,” the authors write. “This study provides evidence that, since 2004, a decreasing proportion of adolescents initiate drugs at 15 years and younger, the age group typically classified as early onset.”

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