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Fewer teens do drugs or have sex — but more come out as LGBTQ, study says

Fewer teens say they are having sex or doing illegal drugs, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 14.6 percent are identifying as something other than heterosexual.
Fewer teens say they are having sex or doing illegal drugs, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 14.6 percent are identifying as something other than heterosexual. Chicago Tribune File

As U.S. teens do fewer drugs and have less sex, more are also coming out of the closet as LGBTQ.

That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey report, which collects data about high school students. Researchers asked teens about using vaporizers, being in the car with a drunk driver and a host of other personal questions.

Just like the demographics of the country, 13.4 percent of those polled were black, 22.8 percent were Hispanic, 10.3 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native and 53.5 percent were white. Women slightly eked out men with 50.7 percent of the sample size.

According to the study, only 14 percent of teenagers say they have done drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, heroine and meth — a sizable decrease from the 22.6 percent of high schoolers who said the same in 2007. However, 19.8 percent said they currently use marijuana, while another 29.8 percent confessed to drinking alcohol.

A preview of a documentary, co-produced by the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, warning teenagers about the perils of heroin. The full documentary is available at: bit.ly/FBIdoc.

There's another statistic that's troubling some researchers, as 14 percent of teens said they abused prescription drugs. It's the first time this particular study has collected information on the misuse of drugs prescribed by doctors.

Dr. Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, told ABC News that "I think most people will agree that 1 in 7 high school students reporting this behavior in the midst of a national opioid crisis is particularly concerning."

"We were surprised to see that 14 percent of high school students reported having misused prescription opioids," she said. "Prescription opioid misuse can lead to overdose and increased risk for HIV."

The data also show that teens are less likely to have sex — but those who do are also less likely to use a condom. The number of teens having sex fell from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 39.5 percent in 2017, the study says, while those who say they use protection during sex declined from 61.5 percent to 53.8 percent.

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told CNN that last statistic is worrisome.

"Young people are already more likely to get an STD than anyone else," he said, "so seeing condom use go down among high school students is concerning to say the least."

At the same time, the younger generation is becoming more likely to identify as something other than heterosexual, the study finds.

Trevor Ladner, a recent graduate from Hancock High, tells his story of discovering drag artistry, the difficulties he faced and the doors that it opened in his life.

Specifically, 2.4 percent said they are gay or bisexual, 8 percent said they are bisexual and another 4.2 percent said they weren't exactly sure yet. That's a total of 14.6 percent of teenaged respondents who feel like their sexuality or gender falls outside the cultural norm.

The study has some potential flaws, however, as the data is self-reported by students and only encompasses those currently enrolled in school.

A 2012 Gallup poll found that 3.8 percent of adult respondents identified as LGBTQ, even though Americans guess that nearly a quarter of people in the country are a member of that community.

Other findings of the study include:

  • The number of teens who say they have been in a car with a drunk driver fell from 40 percent in 1991 to 16 percent in 2017
  • The number of teens who used a vape in the month before the study fell from 24 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2017
  • The number of teens who handled a gun, club or knife in the last 30 days fell from 26.1 percent in 1991 to 15.7 percent in 2017
  • The number of teens who said they felt hopeless in the past year rose from 28.5 percent in 2007 to 31.5 percent in 2017
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