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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Finds Adolescent Cocaine Use Increasing Again

Adolescent cocaine use peaked in the mid-1980s before declining sharply in the early 1990s, leading researchers to focus on adolescent use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. But rates of adolescent cocaine use are on the rise again, according to a new study co-authored by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher, signaling the need for better public health efforts to understand these new trends and develop effective solutions.

The nationally representative study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found adolescent cocaine use increased from 2009 to 2015, after a general decline since the 1990s. Breaking down the data by race and sex, the study found Hispanic boys had the highest rate of cocaine use, but that the increase was most dramatic among black boys, 5.34 percent of whom had ever used cocaine by 2015, exceeding the rate of white boys for the first time.

“Cocaine use among adolescents has severe adverse consequences,” including substance use disorders, mental illness, low educational achievement, and incarceration, says study co-author Dr. Ziming Xuan, associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

The researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behaviors Surveillance System, which monitors health risk behaviors among U.S. high school students. The survey asks, “During your life, how many times have you used any form of cocaine, including powder, crack, or freebase?” The researchers looked at how many respondents had ever used cocaine, and how many had used cocaine three or more times.

Overall, adolescent cocaine use has decreased dramatically since 1999, with 9.54 percent of adolescents having ever used cocaine in 1999 compared to 5.19 percent in 2015, and 5.13 percent of adolescents repeated using cocaine in 1999 compared to 2.84 percent in 2015. However, the researchers found the decline leveled off in the 2000s, and began to increase again around 2009.

Read more about the study.