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Pediatrics and Child Health - Science Policy

Illegal Substance Use among Italian High School Students: Trends over 11 Years (1999–2009)
Published: Friday, June 10, 2011
Author: Sabrina Molinaro et al.

by Sabrina Molinaro, Valeria Siciliano, Olivia Curzio, Francesca Denoth, Stefano Salvadori, Fabio Mariani


To monitor changes in habits in drug use among Italian high school students.


Cross-sectional European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) carried out in Italy annually for 11 years (1999–2009) with representative samples of youth attending high school. The sample size considered ranges from 15,752 to 41,365 students and response rate ranged from 85.5% to 98.6%. Data were analyzed to obtain measures of life-time prevalence (LT), use in the last year (LY), use in the last 30 days (LM), frequent use. Comparisons utilized difference in proportion tests. Tests for linear trends in proportion were performed using the Royston p trend test.


When the time-averaged value was considered, cannabis (30% LT) was the most, and heroin the least (2%) frequently used, with cocaine (5%), hallucinogens (2%) and stimulants (2%) in between. A clear gender gap is evident for all drugs, more obvious for hallucinogens (average M/F LY prevalence ratio 2, range 1.7–2.4, p<0.05), less for cannabis (average M/F LY prevalence ratio 1.3, range 1.2–1.5, p<0.05). Data shows a change in trend between 2005 and 2008; in 2006 the trend for cannabis use and availability dropped and the price rose, while from 2005 cocaine and stimulant use prevalence showed a substantial increase and the price went down. After 2008 use of all substances seems to have decreased.


Drug use is widespread among students in Italy, with cannabis being the most and heroin the least prevalent. Girls are less vulnerable than boys to illegal drug use. In recent years, a decrease in heroin use is overbalanced by a marked rise in hallucinogen and stimulant use.