A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that nearly 10 percent of U.S. citizens admit to regular use of an illegal drug such as marijuana, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or recreational use of prescription drugs. The information for the survey came from interviews with 67,500 randomly selected individuals over the age of 12 years.
Illicit drug use has increased significantly among people 12 years and older since 2009. Gender plays a significant role in the use of illegal substances. In 2010, 11.2 percent of males over the age of 12 reported regular use, while only 6.8 percent of females in the same age group reported regular use.
Regarding ethnicity and drug use, the SAMHSA study shows that the percentage of past-month usage was highest among African Americans, with Caucasians, Hispanics and Asians following in descending order. Drug use among the unemployed was higher than that for the employed, regardless of race or gender. Youths between the ages of 12 to 17 who smoked cigarettes reported illicit drug use at a rate of nearly 8.5 times higher than youths who did not report tobacco use. Furthermore, 70.6 percent of those surveyed who admitted to heavy drinking also used illicit drugs, while only 5.1 percent of non-drinkers used drugs.
The increase in the use of marijuana is especially high, with over 17.4 million users in 2010. SAMHSA reports that over 2 million people ages 12 and over tried marijuana for the first time in 2010 – that’s nearly 7,000 new users every day. Those estimates exceed earlier statistics from 2002 through 2007.
Marijuana: Medicine or Menace?
Experts like Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, believe that the increase in marijuana consumption is attributable to the drug’s legalization for medical use in at least 16 states. Kerlikowske suggests that referring to marijuana as a medication sends the wrong message to youth.
On the other hand, advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana such as Bill Piper, the Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, maintain that abuse of a viable medication by adolescents should not determine the availability of that medication for adults.
Drugs and Preventable Deaths
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that there’s one drug-related death approximately every 14 minutes in the U.S. For the first time ever in 2009, drug-related deaths outnumbered fatalities caused by traffic accidents. The use of illegal drugs is not the only reason for this increase; recreational and improper use of prescription drugs is reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. According to a 2009 study by the CDC, pain and anxiety drugs are directly responsible for more fatalities than cocaine and heroin combined. The number of people seeking drug treatment for issues related to prescription drug use has increased more than 400% since 1998.
In 2010, 1.5 million people aged 12 or over sought treatment for a drug addiction problem – more than 3% of the total U.S. population. Unfortunately, 6.4 million people who needed treatment did not receive it. Approximately one-half of those in need of treatment reported that they did not seek it, even though they acknowledged a need for services. The reasons for avoiding treatment included:
• Lack of health insurance/funding
• Not ready to seek treatment
• Negative perceptions of others
• Negative effect on employment
• Lack of knowledge about treatment choices
• The belief that they could handle their addiction problem with another method
Even more unfortunate than the rise of drug use is the fact that the statistics for successful drug treatment have remained more or less stagnant since 2002.
Methamphetamine Use Slows
A decade ago, methamphetamine was burning its way across the U.S. at a frightening speed. Since 2001, when abuse of the drug first began to reach epidemic proportions, many states have restricted or completely outlawed the sale of some of the ingredients used by meth “cookers” to manufacture the drug at home. An ingredient called pseudoephedrine – found in many over-the-counter cold medications – was one of the first to be restricted.
A glimmer of good news regarding the war on drugs is that the number of methamphetamine users fell significantly from 2006 to 2010; from 731,000 to 353,000. Use of cocaine has also decreased from approximately 2.4 million users in 2006 down to 1.5 million users in 2010. Despite these hopeful statistics, overall use of illicit drugs is currently on the rise in the U.S.
Gregg Gustafson is a freelance writer who is also an outside consultant for Drug-Rehab.org. Gustafson’s current position is to assist with daily research, writing and tracking patient’s long term drug rehab programs status and helping patient recovery needs.