Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Available for 2009


Dr. Pullen examines the results of the recent CDC survey.

This article originally appeared online at, part of the HCPLive network.

It pays for us all to know the truth about what behaviors are prevalent in our teens. Here is the latest data. The Center for Disease Control does surveillance questionnaires to monitor the behavior of our youth in order to better understand where attempts at intervention might best be focused. The data is often interesting, always eye-opening, and worth looking at for parents, physicians and anyone interested in seeing what our young Americans are doing to put themselves at risk. The data for 2009 was released this week and not surprising to me was the high incidence of use of prescription drugs without a physician prescription:

20.2% of youth surveyed has used a prescription drug (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, Ritalin, Adderal, or other opiate or stimulant) without a prescription. This is one of the few drugs of abuse where use by white youth is far above the use rate of black youths. 23% of white youth used prescription drugs illegally, vs. 11.8% of black youths. Use was about equal between white males and white females. It’s little surprise that death from prescription opioids is far more common than death from heroin OD.

What did surprise me was the incidence of suicide attempts in our youth. 13.6% of youth had seriously considered suicide, and 6.3% had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.

Other stats that impressed me are:

  • 2.5% of youth have used heroin.
  • 4.1 % have used methamphetamines.
  • 8.0% have used hallucinogens like LSD or Angel dust
  • 2.1% have injected drugs.

I discussed these issues in prior posts:

  • ADD Drugs to Enhance Performance Epidemic in College Students
  • Oxycontin: What’s the big deal?
  • Can’t find a doctor to prescribe pain meds?
  • Opioid Abuse Remains in the News and the Office

Here is the beginning of the abstract of the YRBS 2009 Survey Data


Problem: Priority health-risk behaviors, which are behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and adults, often are established during childhood and adolescence, extend into adulthood, and are interrelated and preventable.

Reporting Period Covered: September 2008—December 2009.

Description of the System: The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors six categories of prior­ity health-risk behaviors among youth and young adults: 1) behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; 2) tobacco use; 3) alcohol and other drug use; 4) sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; 5) unhealthy dietary behaviors; and 6) physical inactivity. In addition, YRBSS monitors the prevalence of obesity and asthma. YRBSS includes a national school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) conducted by CDC and state and local school-based YRBSs conducted by state and local education and health agencies. This report summarizes results from the 2009 national survey, 42 state surveys, and 20 local surveys conducted among students in grades 9—12.

Read the complete survey A much easier to read overview is here

Play with an interesting interactive tool to look at information by state, gender, and specific risk behavior and compare the last 10 years of data.

Ed Pullen, MD, is a board-certified family physician practicing in Puyallup, WA. He blogs at — A Medical Bog for the Informed Patient.

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