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Teen – January 2009

Drug Facts Chat Day: What Teens Want to Know About Drugs

Drug Facts Chat Day, designed to educate teens about drug use, once again proved to be just as educational for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists answering the questions as it was for the students asking them.
“Is it true that PCP, premo, dust, trigger, shirm, weed, dope, crack, paint, acid is just as bad as a cigarette and liquer?”—559, Discovery Secondary School, California
“Can you get brain damage the first time you use drugs?”—tylerftw, River Hill High School, Maryland
“When you hallucinate cause of acid, what do you hallucinate?”—x I D ii o 7, South County Secondary School, Virginia.
“What is a worse case sanario besides deth for a crack baby?”—BB, Bair Middle School, Florida.
“My friends love Oxycottons i might try them, why shouldn’t i?”—slotheads, Sanborn Regional High School, New Hampshire
At this second annual live chat on October 7, 2008, a team of more than 40 scientists and science writers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA, part of NIH) received more than 11,000 questions from high schoolers in 23 states. Coordinated by the Office of Science Policy and Communications, the event yielded questions that offer an enlightening glimpse into students’ fears, bravado, and misconceptions about drug use.
Similar to data compiled last year, about 10 percent of the questions were on marijuana, another 7 percent on alcohol, and 7 percent on cigarettes.
However, there were some twists this year.
A higher percentage of students (nearly 2 percent) asked about inhalants, with nearly 50 kids asking about permanent markers, in particular. There was a higher percentage of questions on prescription drugs this year and increased interest in both steroids and methamphetamines. While NIDA does not view the Chat Day data as a scientifically valid survey, the questions do offer an interesting look into how thousands of teens across the country view drug abuse issues.
In this year’s chat, more than 600 teens asked what the “worst” drug is, and at least 3 percent asked how to get help for friends and family. About 160 teens asked about the effects of drugs on pregnancy, such as this question from a student in Delaware: “’When a mom delivers a baby and she is on drugs can the baby not be on drugs?”
When responding to questions, NIDA scientists provided links to related institutes and organizations, including those dealing with treatment, alcohol addiction, mental health, and smoking.

Setting Up the Chat
In 2007, NIDA initiated its first-ever live Drug Facts Chat Day with students from high schools around the country. The overwhelming response (more than 36,000 questions) prompted NIDA to add more scientists to the chat this year and to limit registration to 100 schools on a first-come, first-served basis.
The 10-hour event was conducted at computer facilities off campus, using a proprietary software program designed to facilitate online messaging for multiple users. The chat was promoted through high schools, and most teens asked their questions from school computer labs.
This year’s questions ranged from poignant (“Does it mean you’re addicted if you do it for comfort?”) to straightforward (“What are some specific brain changes for marijuana?”) to probing (“’What function does the amygdala play in the need for teenagers to experience extreme gratification?”) to silly (“If I had animal crackers in my soup and they started to talk to me what drug would I probably be on?”).
“For the second year in a row, the Drug Facts Chat Day experience shows us that there is a lot of information teens want to know about drug use but are too embarrassed to ask if they think others are listening,” notes Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of NIDA, who personally answered more than 100 questions. “The anonymity of the Internet brings us a fascinating look into the minds of teenagers.” BC

Information courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Find Out More Online
A transcript of the 2008 Drug Facts Chat Day has been posted on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website,, and NIDA has updated its list of Frequently Asked Questions. Also, NIDA plans to post a video of the Drug Facts Chat Day experience from the perspectives of both the students and the scientists.
A teacher’s guide for Drug Facts Chat Day was posted online, at, to enhance classroom discussions and teacher preparation, offering topic lists and potential questions, as well as educational tools and resources.

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