Drug use increasing among young American Indians

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center have completed a study that compared the age of first-time drug users across the nation to the age of first-time drug users on and near two different American Indian reservations.

Overall, American Indian adolescents were found to be at higher risk for trying marijuana than their peers across the country. The study, published in the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, is being published May 30 online under ‘First Look' at http://www.ajph.org.

Researchers at the American Indian and Alaska Native Programs located in UCDHSC's Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building divided drug users into two groups – those born before 1960 and those born after 1960. For the population born before 1960, the potential risk for drug use peaked at age 18 with a greater risk in the overall national population group. After 1960, the risk for trying marijuana was highest at age 16 and is now higher among reservation-dwelling youth than the general population.

“The overall age for drug use and experimentation has moved to a younger age group all across the nation,” said Nancy Whitesell, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry in the American Indian and Alaska Native Programs at the UCDHSC School of Medicine. “The numbers show the Native American samples are catching up and even surpassing the national population samples for the youngest populations that are at risk for drug use.”

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug among adolescents and adults in the United States. Some studies have linked early marijuana use with later dependence on the drug and use of additional drugs and substances.

Whitesell added, “The earlier the exposure to drugs, the more likely the child is to develop other drug problems or dependency disorders. This research tells us that greater attention needs to be paid to prevention strategies targeted at younger children. Since the risk of use is sliding toward younger and younger children, it would be best to start the education and prevention methods in late elementary school-aged children, especially in Native American communities.”

The University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center is one of three universities in the University of Colorado system. Located in Denver and at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colo., the center includes schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and dentistry, a graduate school and a teaching hospital. For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.uchsc.edu or the UCDHSC Newsroom at http://www.uchsc.edu/news.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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