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Vol. LX, No. 2
January 25, 2008

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Students Ask NIDA Scientists About Drugs, Addiction

Children from Umana Middle School Academy present the Boston We Can! City sign to Mayor Thomas Menino during a press conference. Adults on hand included (from l) NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni; acting Surgeon General Steven Galson; Menino; NHLBI director Dr. Elizabeth Nabel; and Karen Donato, coordinator, NHLBI Obesity Education Initiative.
NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow participates in NIDA’s recent Chat Day with youngsters.

Students are craving accurate information on drug abuse and addiction. That’s the conclusion scientists from the National Institute on Drug Abuse drew from a recent online chat with high school and some middle school students. In all, there were more than 36,000 questions from schools in 49 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. At times, the questions came in as rapidly as 6,000 per hour.  

NIDA partnered with Scholastic, a popular in-school publication service, to promote NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day 2007 through school distribution lists. More than 40 scientists and science writers who specialize in addiction issues took turns throughout the day to answer questions as they were posted during a 10-hour period. NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow herself answered more than 100 questions.

More than 10 percent of the questions focused on marijuana, another 10 percent on alcohol, and another 10 percent on smoking. More than 600 teens asked how they could get help for a friend and nearly 400 asked about the effects of using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.

There were more than 100 questions on inhalants, including gasoline, permanent markers and hairspray. At least 50 teens asked about steroids and athletic performance. There were nearly 1,000 questions each on methamphetamine and cocaine, more than 300 on heroin and more than 200 on “shrooms” (mushrooms).

Despite recent surveys showing a consistently high rate of non-medical use of prescription drugs among older teens, there were fewer than 200 questions combined on Vicodin and OxyContin, the most commonly abused medications.

There were thousands of more general questions, from “What drugs are the worst for you?” to “Why do people take drugs?” Some asked “Does rehab work?” with references to recent celebrity stints in drug treatment centers. More than 100 teens made references to their parents with questions like “How likely are you to start taking drugs if one of your parents uses drugs?”

A teachers’ guide was posted at to enhance the discussion, and teacher preparation, with lists of topics and potential questions as well as educational tools and resources.

Plans are already under way for Drug Facts Chat Day 2008, including increasing the capacity to answer more questions. In addition, plans are being made to stay connected to the schools that participated and to reach out to the classrooms that were not able to get their questions answered because of the overwhelming volume.

A transcript of the Chat Day conversation is posted online at NIHRecord Icon

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