Young Americans Making Better Choices

Illegal drug use among young adults fell in the US by over one percent since 2009

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Using prescription medications for non-medical use has become a real problem in the US. Fortunately, young adults have been backing away from this type of abuse.

In a recent report, based on nationwide surveys, researchers collected data on drug, alcohol and tobacco use in the US.

The results of the report showed that, overall, illegal drug use among young adults was down in 2012, but heroin use has nearly doubled since 2007.

"Seek treatment for any substance abuse problems."

This report, released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), showed that the misuse of prescription medications by young adults has fallen in recent years.

Based on the responses of roughly 70,000 Americans from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the researchers discovered that 5.3 percent of young adults, ages 18 to 25, used prescription medications for non-medical purposes in 2012.

The researchers noted that 5.3 percent was not a significant change from the rate of misuse in 2011 and 2010. But the rate of misuse in 2009 was 6.4 percent for this age group in the US. This nationwide reduction of 1.1 percent was considered to be significant.

A total of 9.2 percent of Americans, ages 12 and older, reported that they had used some type of illegal drug in the past month — that's a total of 23.9 million people.

Of all the illegal drugs used, marijuana was the most common. The use of marijuana increased from 5.8 percent in 2007 to 7.3 percent in 2012.

There was an exception to this increase among adolescents ages 12 to 17. The use of marijuana among this age group slightly decreased from 7.9 percent in 2007 to 7.2 percent in 2012.

The percentage of adolescents with substance dependence or abuse fell from 8.9 percent in 2002 to 6.1 percent in 2012.

The use of heroin nearly doubled among people ages 12 and older from 373,000 people in 2007 to 669,000 people in 2012.

Results of the NSDUH showed a drop in driving while under the influence of alcohol as well.

In 2002, 14.2 percent of people ages 12 and older admitted to operating a motor vehicle after drinking at least once in the past year. In 2012, only 11.2 percent of people in the same age group reported that they had driven under the influence of alcohol in the past year.

A drastic drop was seen in adolescents' use of tobacco products. Among Americans ages 12 to 17, 15.2 percent used tobacco products in 2002. By 2012, use was down to 8.6 percent.

“These statistics represent real people, families and communities dealing with the devastating consequences of abuse and addiction. We must strive to prevent further abuse and provide the hope of treatment to all people needing help,” Pamela S. Hyde, SAMHSA Administrator, said in a press statement.

The researchers reported that of the 23.1 million Americans in need of treatment for a substance use disorder, only 2.5 million, or 10.8 percent, underwent any specialized treatment.

“For the first time in a decade, we are seeing real and significant reductions in the abuse of prescription drugs in America, proving that a more comprehensive response to our drug problem can make a real difference in making our nation healthier and safer," Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a press statement.

"Expanding prevention, treatment, and support for people in recovery for substance use disorders will be our guide as we work to address other emerging challenges, including the recent uptick in heroin use shown in this survey,” Kerlikowske said.

"The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) regularly surveys roughly 70,000 in its annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and the data they gather is incredibly valuable. While there are noteworthy variations in relative levels of substance abuse within distinct populations, the bottom line from the 2012 report is that a staggering number of Americans of all ages and stripes consistently use, abuse, and depend upon illicit drugs and alcohol. This is no mystery to me as a practitioner: I see drug and alcohol abuse in nearly all of my patients," Aaron Krasner, MD, a board certified Child/Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT, told dailyRx News. 

"While variations and fluctuations in use patterns are of interest to researchers, law enforcement, policy makers and epidemiologists I am a practical clinician at heart.  So here’s my bottom line: drugs and alcohol are here to stay and the faster we can move toward holistic, empathic, and evidence informed treatments, the faster we can interrupt the vicious cycles of recidivism, trauma, and delinquency that bedevil this population and, by proxy, the rest of us who live and work with these folks every day," said Dr. Krasner.

This study was published in September on the SAMHSA website. SAMHSA is an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Review Date: 
September 8, 2013
Last Updated:
September 26, 2013