Health Department Releases 2015 Data on Substance Use Among New York City Public High School Students by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

14 percent of students misused prescription drugs within the past year or had used illicit drugs in the past; drug misuse among gay, lesbian and bisexual students was twice that of heterosexual students; transgender youth were three times more likely to misuse opioids compared to non-transgender youth

ThriveNYC and the Department of Education offer free and immediate options to meet mental health and substance use disorder needs

June 29, 2017 — The Health Department today released an Epi Data Brief on drug use among New York City public high school students, with research specifically on use according to sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2015, the prevalence of prescription drug misuse in the past 12 months was higher among gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) youth (16 percent) and youth who are not sure about their sexual orientation (19 percent), compared with heterosexual youth (8 percent). Youth who are not sure about their sexual orientation (15 percent) and GLB youth (12 percent) were more than twice as likely to misuse opioids compared with heterosexual youth. Transgender youth (21 percent) were three times more likely to misuse opioids compared with non-transgender youth in 2015 (7 percent). The data brief also reports on substance use by public high school students overall. The 2015 data show that 14 percent of public high school students in New York City misused prescription drugs within the past year or had lifetime use of illicit drugs. Misuse of prescription opioid analgesic medications in the past year and any use of illicit drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine did not change from 2013 to 2015. The data show that prescription drug use varies among gender and sexual orientation groups.

The de Blasio Administration has made the expansion of mental health services and destigmatization of mental health issues a priority. Under ThriveNYC, the City offers a range of substance use and mental health services to all public school students, and with the new initiative HealingNYC — a $38 million annual investment at full ramp-up – the City is aiming to reduce overdose deaths by opioids by promoting judicious prescribing of opioids, increasing access to naloxone and connecting New Yorkers to medication-assisted treatment, among other public health and public safety approaches. The full Epi Data Brief can be found here (PDF).

“‘It’s like walking through a hailstorm’ said the mother of a gender non-conforming student, describing the hostile environment that LGBT youth faced in 2015. Data affirms that youth who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in NYC public schools experience enormous social pressures — like bullying, discrimination and abandonment — which diminishes their self-worth and encourages unhealthy behavior. The prevalence of drug misuse among this particular youth population is truly disheartening. I am committed to furthering the efforts of ThriveNYC and working with City agency partners and community-based organizations to bring strength and wellness to our minority youth communities,” said First Lady of NYC Chirlane McCray, who leads the city’s mental health and substance misuse efforts.

“The use of illicit drugs is not limited to any one age group or demographic, and its prevalence among young New Yorkers cannot be ignored,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “The misuse of prescription drugs among gay, lesbian and bisexual students is especially concerning. We have made a commitment to this community with mental health and substance use programs that will help save lives.”

The Department of Education takes a multifaceted approach to providing students with support to increase awareness of, prevent, and address substance misuse. Drug use awareness is included in the health education curriculum, and students can access the DOE’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialists program, which provides a range of prevention and intervention services to students in grades K-12. The DOE also partners with City agencies and nonprofit organizations that are on the forefront of substance misuse prevention.

Epi Data Brief highlights

  • The prevalence of any illicit drug use was twice as high among GLB youth (16 percent) and “not sure” youth (17 percent) compared with their heterosexual counterparts (8 percent).
  • The prevalence of drug use was higher among males compared with females: 10 percent versus 8 percent for any prescription drug use in the past year and 10 percent versus 7 percent for any lifetime illicit drug use.
  • White (9 percent) and Latino (7 percent) youth were more likely to misuse benzodiazepines or stimulants during the past year compared with Black (4 percent) and Asian (4 percent) youth.
  • Latino (12 percent) and White (11 percent) youth had a higher prevalence of illicit drug use than Black (7 percent) and Asian (4 percent) youth.
  • 16 percent of youth reported marijuana use in the past month.
  • Asian youth were less likely to have used marijuana in the past month (5 percent) compared with White (19 percent), Black (17 percent) and Latino (18 percent) youth.
  • Heroin use was highest among youth who reside in Staten Island (6 percent) in comparison to the other boroughs; self-reported heroin use among Staten Island youth did not change from the 2013 survey findings.

The Health Department offers adolescent substance use disorder treatment programs for ages 14 to 24, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence. Treatment providers can be searched using the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator.

Under ThriveNYC, the City has expanded its range of mental health services for high school students and LGBTQ youth:

  • Youth Mental Health First Aid As part of the City’s Thrive NYC intitiative, Mental Health First Aid trains New Yorkers to identify and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges. The Youth Mental Health First Aid program focuses on ages 12-18 and addresses the specific needs of transition age youth (ages 18-25). The training educates adults on how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health disorders in adolescents and highlights the societal factors that impact a young LGBTQ person, such as discrimination, fear and harassment. Register online for a free Youth Mental Health First Aid training class.
  • Kognito At-Risk and School Mental Health Program Faculty in public schools have access to Kognito At-Risk training, an evidence-based training that educates teachers and other staff members on how to recognize early signs and symptoms of psychological distress in students and connect them to resources within a school setting. Through the Office of School Health, the School Mental Health Program establishes school-based mental health clinics with staff who have been trained to support LGBTQ youth.
  • NYC Well In 2016, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Health Commissioner Bassett announced NYC Well, a one-click, one-call connection to counseling, crisis intervention, peer support, and referrals to ongoing treatment services. Staff are are trained in issues impacting LGBTQ youth and knowledgeable in LGBTQ resources. NYC Well, a cornerstone of ThriveNYC, is available 24/7, 365 days a year through phone, text, and chat. If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-888-NYC-WELL. For more information on ThriveNYC, visit
  • HealingNYC This year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray launched HealingNYC, a multifaceted response to the opioid crisis. The majority of adults who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder started use during adolescence. Providing evidence-based interventions, including educational activities and social supports, can delay early use and stop the progression from use to addiction. ThriveNYC’s School Mental Health Clinics and Consulting programs now cover all Department of Education campuses and educate staff and families on proven awareness and prevention approaches for youth. This year, ThriveNYC will create additional mental health clinics in high-need schools that account for a disproportionate share of suspensions and mental health issues. This effort will be modeled after the expansion of mental health services in NYC’s Community Schools.

“I remember too well the crack epidemic, when drugs were destroying young lives at shocking rates. We are fortunate to have made tremendous progress in the last few decades, though these numbers show there’s still more work to do,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “In particular, the statistics showing LGBT youth at higher risk of prescription drug or opioid abuse show we must do more to build an inclusive, accepting city that’s as supportive as possible to every young person growing up here, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“The data show that LGBTQ youth are a population particularly vulnerable to substance use disorder, and it's critical that we devote additional resources to provide education, treatment and vital support services to this community," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. "In addition to this lifesaving outreach, it's vital that we continue to implement inclusive policies that reinforce our commitment to anti-discrimination.”

“The data on opioid and substance use among gay, lesbian, and bisexual students is alarming,” said Council Member Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health. “While we know that substance abuse affects New Yorkers regardless of their demographics, this data will help us find and promote effective policies to treat and combat substance abuse. We must make sure we’re implementing programs that will educate students and teacher on how to stop substance abuse before it starts, while arming New Yorkers with resources to combat substance abuse that will save lives.”



MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Julien Martinez, (347) 396-4177