Have you ever wondered about whether medications prescribed by a doctor could actually be dangerous? Or whether giving a friend a prescription pill you take for ADHD could be bad for them?
Sometimes, people assume that if your doctor prescribes you medications, then they are safe for anyone. Prescription drugs, like Ritalin or Adderall for ADHD, or Tylenol 3 or Percocet for pain, can be extremely effective when used as prescribed…by the people they were prescribed for.
But people who have not been seen by a doctor for these conditions are asking friends to share their drugs for a variety of reasons. For example, Adderall and Ritalin belong to a class of drugs called stimulants—that is, they stimulate your brain and make you feel more alert. Teens might think that's an advantage when taking a test at school. However, that kind of use is actually drug abuse, and can hurt you.
Check out the November issue of Glamour magazine for stories of women who have taken these drugs—both as prescribed and not—and see what they experienced as a result (NIDA's Director, Dr. Nora Volkow was interviewed as a subject expert). And check out the facts about prescription drug abuse on NIDA for Teens.
Here at NIDA, we are fortunate to be led by a trailblazing female scientist, Dr. Nora Volkow. She has done brilliant and pioneering work in brain science and is even a great spokeswoman: She goes on TV all the time to explain the important work NIDA does in studying and preventing drug abuse.
But in some ways, Dr. Volkow is an exception. Despite the fact that more women than men go to college today, men still outnumber women in the sciences—by A LOT. In 2008–09, only 31 percent of the degrees and certificates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM, for short) were earned by women. Despite making up half of the U.S. workforce, women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.
When they do go into the sciences, many women take a different path than many men do, and are more likely to pursue the life sciences (biology, genetics, or neuroscience, for example) than the physical sciences (like physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geology). It seems that women are more drawn to STEM fields that have a direct impact on improving the human condition through advances in health.
Gender Bias and Stereotypes
So, why do women continue to shy away from the sciences? One possible reason is the old stereotype that men are better at math and science than women. This inaccurate but still widely believed myth creates gender bias—preference of men over women—that can make it harder for women to enter STEM fields and discourage them from even pursuing those areas in their education.
The gender bias in sciences was confirmed by a recent Yale study. When Yale University researchers asked scientists to review the job applications of a woman and a man with identical qualifications, the scientists consistently ranked the male candidate higher and were more likely to hire the male—and to pay him more. The scientists reviewing the applications included both men and women, which means women showed gender bias too!
White House Initiative To Support Women and Girls in STEM
Another often-cited barrier keeping women from entering STEM fields is the lack of female role models in the sciences.
President Obama believes that supporting women in STEM is important to our country’s continued development and success. That is why the Office of Science and Technology Policy, together with the White House Council on Women and Girls, is working to increase the number of girls participating in the sciences.
The President is addressing the need for more female role models by appointing several women to lead science and technology efforts in our Government. A few of these talented women include:
- Lisa Jackson, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
- Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator
- Arati Prabhakar, Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
We’re lucky to have Dr. Nora Volkow as our female role model in science. We also believe women and men are equally qualified to be scientists and engineers.
Tell us in comments—How can we help other young women feel confident enough to wear the white lab coat?
It's that time of year again-time to announce the results of NIDA's annual Monitoring the Future survey. For the 34th year, researchers went into classrooms all over the country and asked young people to fill out surveys about their drug use. This year 46,097 8th, 10th and 12th graders participated—that's a lot of teens! As the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this is one of my favorite times of the year because we hold a big news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to let the public know what the researchers learned. Here's the news this year, good and bad.
The good news is that methamphetamine use is at its lowest since the survey started tracking it 10 years ago. At that time, 4.7% of teens said they had tried meth in the previous month, but this year, just 1.2% said they had used it. Teens are also smoking cigarettes less than they used to. About 1 in 10 high school seniors say they smoke every day, compared to 4 in 10 in 1999. This drop translates to longer, healthier lives for today's teens.
But of course the survey also shows some not-so-good things. So while cigarette smoking is down, it looks as if more kids are chewing tobacco. Believe it or not, more than 6% of 10th graders say they use smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products contain many toxins, as well as high levels of nicotine (3-4 times more than cigarettes), which makes them addictive. Not to mention what it does to your teeth and breath. Here are some more facts.
Also, too many teens are still abusing prescription drugs, which is not good. Unless a medicine is prescribed for you and you take it the way your doctor tells you to, prescription pills can be as dangerous as street drugs. In fact, more people are dying from accidental overdoses of prescription drugs than from cocaine and heroin combined. We have done some blogs about this in the past.
And for the first time, NIDA's Monitoring the Future survey asked 12th graders about their use of salvia, an herb common to southern Mexico and Central and South America—5.7% of high school seniors had abused it in the past year. People who abuse salvia typically experience hallucinations or episodes that resemble a type of mental illness known as psychosis (sigh-ko-sis), which can really be scary.
For more information on this year's survey results, go to the NIDA home page and click on the "Monitoring the Future" link.
This is a guest post from the Director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow.
NIDA’s first-ever Virtual Town Hall on Prevention is now online! What’s a Virtual Town Hall? Well, NIDA asked a bunch of experts in drug abuse prevention to come to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and talk about how different communities can set up programs for teens that give them interesting things to do after school and on weekends. At the same time, we asked a lot of people up in Maine to meet at the local Opera House in Camden so they could ask our experts questions by satellite. NIDA research shows that when teens have neat things to do, they are less likely to make poor choices out of boredom. The programs are called “prevention” programs because having interesting activities to participate in can prevent making bad choices about drugs.
For example, at the Town Hall, we saw a video of kids in Maine rock climbing, hanging out with farm animals (have you ever groomed a cow?), doing service projects. Even the kids admitted there wasn’t much to do in their towns so they were happy to have after-school activities that interested them and made them feel good. And guess what? Drug use is down in those towns! If you want to see our Virtual Town Hall video you can click on this link—there’s even a 6-minute version. Show it to your teachers or coaches so they can learn why after school activities are important.
SBB wants to know if you think there are enough fun activities in your town for teens. If not, why not start something?
SBB attended the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria, and wow, what an experience! More than 20,000 people from all over the world came together in one place to discuss the progress being made in preventing and treating HIV and AIDS. Scientists, doctors, community activists, and many other groups all met to push for more support of AIDS programs. SBB was there because NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow was speaking at the conference about the link between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. She said that many people who use drugs contract HIV through (1) sharing needles used to inject drugs (like heroin) and (2) doing risky things when they’re on drugs, like having unprotected sex.
Many creative people were there. They even made art from pill packets used to hold HIV/AIDS medicines, making the point that catching people early in the disease and starting them on antiretroviral medications can greatly lower HIV spread and help prevent the progression to AIDS. Also, “Methadone Man” and “Bupenorphrine Babe” made an appearance—a compelling way to remind people that effective medicines are also available for drug abuse, and that drug abuse treatment can help prevent HIV. It is an urgent problem. In some parts of the world people who are addicted to drugs and have AIDS are just locked up in prison—with no treatment for either their AIDS or for their drug addiction.
To learn about the connection between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, take a look at NIDA’s Learn the Link campaign at http://hiv.drugabuse.gov/index.html
Hello! I am just back from speaking at a news conference about NIDA’s 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF)—a big crowd of reporters showed up to hear the latest numbers with regard to teens and drug use. I wrote about MTF last year, remember? To remind you, MTF is an anonymous survey of more than 46,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders around the country. The survey measures drug and alcohol use. It also assesses teens’ attitudes about drugs by asking these questions: “Do you think drugs are harmful?” “Do you disapprove of drugs?” And… “How available are they?” This year we had some surprising changes that have me worried.
For one thing, marijuana use is going up, especially among 8th graders. The survey also showed that fewer teens think marijuana is harmful. This is one of the biggest drug myths out there. Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment, and motor skills, but research tells us that about 1 in 11 people who use marijuana even once will later become addicted to it. AND, the younger people start, the more likely this will happen. Therefore, I am especially concerned by survey results showing that daily marijuana use increased significantly among all three grades, so that in 2010, 6.1 percent of high school seniors, 3.3 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.2 percent of 8th-graders were daily marijuana users.
In some cases it looks as if marijuana is becoming more popular than cigarettes. In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes. The good news is there are still a lot of wise teens who stay away from both marijuana and cigarettes. Research shows that these kids will be more successful in school, and in life.
(note: Video is from 2009)
The MTF Survey also tells us that abuse of prescription drugs remains high. That is when you use a medication not prescribed for you or in a way not intended—such as taking ADHD drugs before a test or taking a pain reliever to get high. In fact, 6 of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th-graders in the past year were prescribed or purchased over- the- counter. Prescription pain relievers (opioids) are a particular problem, with many more overdoses occurring than in the past.
NIDA would like to hear your feedback—why do you think more teens are using marijuana, and fewer are disapproving of its use?
“We always start with a question…”
We love getting the comments you send us in response to important or controversial posts. As you know, Sara Bellum has the opportunity to interact with some of the world’s most renowned researchers to understand more about drug abuse and addiction. Since many of you have commented on blog posts questioning the science or wondering how NIDA scientists reach their conclusions, we invited NIDA’s Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, to talk about how scientists go about the process of discovery. Dr. Volkow explains:
In scientific research, we always start with a question. It could be something monumental—like setting out to map every neuron in the human brain to help determine its precise structure—or something that applies in only certain cases—like why do some people get addicted to drugs more easily than others?
Once we have a question in mind, we investigate existing research to see how others have looked at the question, or maybe even answered it. Sometimes, this helps a researcher refine the question or discover whether other conclusions could have been drawn from existing data.
Science is about testing and retesting our assumptions
Based on current research on differences in addiction between individuals, we might look through data to identify common features for drug-addicted persons: are they based on a family history of addiction? Are there environmental factors like the availability of certain drugs? What about mental health considerations?
From there, we would form a hypothesis. For example: “In certain individuals, heredity is a factor in drug addiction.”
Then we would devise a way to test that hypothesis in an experimental group vs. a control group. The only way we can verify results is to have someone else conduct the experiment independently and replicate the findings. Science is about testing and retesting our assumptions. Only then can we call it a science-based fact.
So, you can see that scientists are, by nature, curious about why and how things work. Maybe you’ve been curious enough to do a science experiment yourself?
Maybe you’re like teens Daniel Martin, Jada Dalley, and Sehar Salman, who all found themselves pursuing scientific mysteries: Daniel wondered if he could prove the urban myth that scavengers in the deserts of the Southwest will not touch human remains with even a trace of methamphetamines in their bodies. Jada and Sehar examined tsetse flies (a common experimental source for scientists) to discover something completely new: effects of third-hand smoke. They searched for answers using the scientific method Dr. Volkow describes above, and designed research projects that earned them a 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) Addiction Science Award.
Check out ( PDF [586 KB] ) what Daniel, Jada and Sehar found, and how they reached their conclusions.
Keep asking questions.
The second annual National Drug Facts Week was in full swing on November 2 at the House of Sweden at a hallmark event for NIDA’s 2011 health observance in Washington, DC.More than 100 high school students from 7 schools in the District of Columbia and Baltimore, MD, attended the “Drug Facts Rally” headlined by NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D., and Grammy-nominated R&B recording artist Mario Barrett. Other students participated in the event via Skype from the Baltimore Mayor’s office. Ask Anything Attendees had the unique opportunity to interact directly with Dr. Volkow, asking their most pressing questions about drugs and addiction during an energetic Q&A session. Dr. Volkow also answered two questions submitted from students in Sweden. (To read other questions from high school students and the answers direct from NIDA scientists, read NIDA’s 2011 Drug Facts Chat Day transcript.) After speaking with NIDA’s Director, the students broke into small group sessions to show off their knowledge in a Jeopardy-style trivia game with peer health educators from the George Washington University Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education. Using Music To Send a Message One of the day’s most memorable moments came when Mario Barrett took the stage. He surprised an attendee who had been invited to sing a few lines from one of his songs by joining her in the second verse. Originally from Baltimore, MD, Mario grew up with a mother who was addicted to drugs. He was exposed to violence, gangs, and drugs on a daily basis. Eventually, he rose to the top of the R&B charts with songs like “Just a Friend 2002” and “Let Me Love You.” With a goal of giving back, he uses his Mario Do Right Foundation to mentor and support the children of substance abusing parents. He strives to create a support system that he didn’t have for much of his childhood. T-Shirt Contest Winners Miss DC International, Dr. Allison Hill, a certified pharmacist, attended the event to help announce the winners of a t-shirt contest sponsored by international fashion retailer H&M and the Mentor Foundation USA. The contest challenged District of Columbia high school students to design a slogan to express what motivates them to stay drug free now and in the future. The following students, all from the César Chávez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy–Parkside, won the competition: 1st place: Damani Johnson 2nd Place: Temple Reed 3rd Place: Tina Starr Each attendee received a t-shirt featuring Damani Johnson’s winning slogan, which read: Front: I’M > DRUGS Back: I’M GREATER THAN DRUGS BREATHE IN COMMON SENSE, EXHALE IGNORANCE STAY POSITIVE, TEST NEGATIVE STAY DRUG FREE Besides the t-shirt and loads of facts about drug abuse and healthy choices, attendees also had the opportunity to take away photos of the event. Students also could visit a video booth to give a shoutout about why they are drug free and what they learned during the day to shatter the myths about drug abuse. Now we want to hear from you as well. Hit the comments below and tell us your personal slogan against drug abuse or give us a shoutout about why you’re drug free. Embassy of Sweden Event Partners
This week begins NIDA’s annual National Drug Facts Week. Around the country, more than 500 schools and community groups will hold events to talk with teens about drugs—focusing on the facts.
We at NIDA have studied the science behind drug abuse and addiction for nearly 40 years, and one thing we know for certain: A lot of myths are out there about different kinds of drugs. Some of these myths are spread by the media, movies, and popular music, or by friends who have simply heard the wrong information. We want teens to know the scientific facts so they can make healthy choices about their lives.
To find out if an event is planned near you, visit the National Drug Facts Week Web site, and then click on the USA map. Please take a minute to explore the site and see what the week is all about.
Teens from schools in the Washington, DC, area gather around music star Mario at a National Drug Facts Week event sponsored by the Mentor Foundation (2011).
What do you want first, the good news or the bad news? Whenever a conversation starts this way, you know things are going to get interesting.
Check out this video clip where Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA's Director, talks face-to-face with 100 teens at Harlem High School in New York about drug abuse. See what she says when someone asks her about Internet addiction. She is really open and honest, explaining both the good and the bad about taking risks. View the video to the right and feel free to share it with your friends.
National Drug Facts Week is in full swing! Have you looked up any facts? As a scientist, I love studying data and reading about real facts that have been tested by credible science. Some facts might surprise you.
For example, did you know that:
- if you begin smoking marijuana as a teen, it could lower your IQ?
- more people die from painkiller overdoses in the country every year than from heroin and cocaine combined?
- fewer kids are smoking cigarettes these days?
What kinds of drug facts interest you? I recommend you try three things.
- Check out our NIDA for Teens Web site at www.teens.drugabuse.gov.
- If your school has not signed up for National Drug Facts Day, watch our chat with NIDA scientists tomorrow, January 31, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
- Take the interactive 2013 National Drug IQ Challenge to see what you know about drugs!
Stay smart by taking some time to research the facts about drugs.
Question: What happens when 10,000 people in recovery from drug abuse and addiction get together to celebrate their sobriety?
SBB was part of the team that went with NIDA Director Nora Volkow last month to march across the Brooklyn Bridge as part of Recovery Month. Celebrated every September, Recovery Month honors the thousands of Americans who have kicked their addictions. Recovery Month is sponsored by government and other organizations dedicated to fighting substance abuse.
The event at the Brooklyn Bridge was an amazing experience. People in recovery came from every state. Some had been sober for only a few months, others for many years. You could see their stories on their faces, and many of them had been through a lot. But you could also see their hope that came from hard work. On this day, they all came together to walk across one of the most famous bridges in America, the same bridge that many American immigrants helped build more than 100 years ago to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The bridge is a great symbol of hope and incredible achievement, since the technology behind its design seemed nearly impossible a century ago. It was so difficult to build that many people were injured and died during the construction - but it was eventually completed and still stands today. For the 10,000 people who had the courage not just to get treatment for their addictions, but to go public with their struggles to inspire others, their victory is a major achievement, like the bridge.
The Recovery Rally at the bridge was sponsored by A&E Entertainment, which produces the TV show Intervention. Counselors on the show work with families to help convince their loved ones to seek treatment for their addictions. Many of the counselors on the TV show led the way at the march across the bridge, along with Dr. Nora Volkow, holding a banner that says "A&E Recovery Rally."
If you watch the show Intervention, you might recognize some of the counselors in the photo.
Did you know that prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are the most commonly abused substances by high school seniors (after marijuana and alcohol)? Some medications have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties and, because of that, are sometimes abused—taken for reasons or in ways not intended by a doctor, or taken by someone with no prescription.
In all my years as a medical doctor and scientist who studies drug abuse, I have never met anyone who wanted to get addicted. Sometimes, addiction comes from a lack of knowledge. For example, people often think that prescription and OTC drugs are safer than illicit drugs, but that’s only true when they are taken exactly as prescribed and for the purpose intended. When abused, prescription and OTC drugs can be addictive and lead to other bad health effects, including overdose—especially when taken along with other drugs or alcohol.
We have a cool infographic on Monitoring the Future stats—Check it out.