PHOENIX -- For years, the number of kids smoking marijuana has been dropping. Now that trend is reversing and experts are worried. A survey released Wednesday shows more teens are smoking pot. In fact, nearly one in 10 teenagers light up at least 20 times a month, according The Partnership at DrugFree.org.
The group says while the use of illicit drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamines, hasn't gone up, the number of kids admitting to using marijuana grew from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent last year.
Also an eye-opener for parents, the percentage of teens smoking pot 20 or more times a month. That rate went from 5 percent in 2008 to 9 percent last year, that equals to roughly 1.5 million teens toking up regularly.
The Partnership at Drugfree.org says this is disturbing because teens who smoke pot regularly were almost twice as likely to use ecstasy, cocaine or crack. Just over half of Hispanic teens say they have used an illicit drug, such as ecstasy or cocaine, in the past year. That compares with 39 percent for white teens and 42 percent for African-American teens.
"When you look at the Arizona numbers, we see that boys typically use more than girls," said Shelly Mowrey of DrugFreeAZ.org. That trend holds when looking national numbers.
Mowrey said it's essential for parents to take action, especially when you consider the fact that the average age of first marijuana use in Arizona is 13.
"Start the conversation early and often," Mowrey said, explaining that many parents worry about such conversations because they fear the questions their kids might ask.
Another big problem: Kids are getting into mom and dad's medicine cabinet. Abuse of prescription medicine hasn't gone up, but one in 10 teens reports using prescription pain medication like Vicodin or OxyContin in the past year.
In Arizona, the numbers are higher. Much higher.
"Our numbers are about double the national average," Mowrey said. "We have about one in four 12th-graders abusing prescription pain-relievers. ... We do see a lot of kids self-medicating just to cope .... They have this misperception that abusing a prescription drug is safe because prescribed by a doctor. It's not as bad as abusing cocaine or LSD or other drugs."
Mowrey went on to explain several signs of drug use parents should watch for, including lack of attention to personal appearance, changes in relationships with friends or family members, mood swings, lack of coordination and loss of interest in school or activities.
Researchers surveyed more than 3,300 students in grades nine through 12 with anonymous questionnaires that the teens filled out at school. The partnership's study was sponsored by the MetLife Foundation.