One in seven high school students reported misusing prescription opioids, one of several disturbing results in a nationwide survey of teenagers that revealed a growing sense of fear and despair among youth in the United States.

The numbers of teenagers reporting “feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” suicidal thoughts, and days absent from school out of fear of violence or bullying have all risen since 2007. The increases were particularly pointed among lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students.

Nationally, 1 in 5 students reported being bullied at school; 1 in 10 female students and 1 in 28 male students reported having been physically forced to have sex.

“An adolescent’s world can be bleak,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey and analyzed the data. “But having a high proportion of students report they had persistent feelings of hopelessness and 17 percent considering suicide is deeply disturbing.”

In 2017, 31 percent of students surveyed said they had such feelings, while 28 percent said so in 2007. In 2017, nearly 14 percent of students had actually made a suicide plan, up from 11 percent in 2007.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is given every two years to nearly 15,000 students in high schools in 39 states, and poses questions about a wide array of attitudes and activities.

The report did offer some encouraging trends, suggesting that the overall picture for adolescents is a nuanced one. Compared to a decade ago, fewer students reported having had sex, drinking alcohol or using drugs like cocaine, heroin or marijuana.

Because this was the first time that the question about prescription opioids had been given, the researchers who compiled the report could not say whether the 1 in 7 (or 14 percent) figure represented an increase or decrease.

David C. Harvey, a social worker who is executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, said that even without a means of comparison, the numbers offered an important look at the lesser-known impact of opioids on adolescents. He said they strongly suggest that opioid use may be contributing to a rise in sexually transmitted diseases among young people.

 

– Jan Hoffman

Read more: Sex and Drugs Decline Among Teens, but Depression and Suicidal Thoughts Grow

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