National drug survey shows big drop in methamphetamine use
Nearly one in 10 Americans report regularly using illegal drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants or prescription drugs used recreationally, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health made public today. The survey, sponsored by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), collects the data from interviews with 67,500 randomly selected people 12 years or older.
Marijuana, with 17.4 million regular users, is by far the most commonly used drug. Its popularity is growing: 6.9% of the population reported using marijuana regularly, up from 5.8% in 2007. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, 7.4% reported having used marijuana in the past month, about the same as last year.
Drug use among young adults 18 to 25 has inched up steadily from 19.6% in 2008 to 21.5% in 2010. Marijuana use in that group rose from 16.5% in 2008 to 18.5% in 2010.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, attributed the uptick in marijuana use to the increase in the number of states that have approved it for medical use. Delaware in May became the 16th state to approve medical marijuana.
Drug use climbs
Percentage of the population 12 years and older who are current users of illicit drugs and marijuana.
“People keep calling it medicine, and that’s the wrong message for young people to hear,” Kerlikowske said.
Marijuana use rates rise and fall in states that allow medical marijuana in the same fashion as they do in other states, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates decriminalizing marijuana.
“In the field of medicine, whether or not a youth might abuse something doesn’t determine whether or not an adult should have access to a medication and whether a doctor should prescribe it,” Piper said.
Rebecca McGoldrick, 21, a Brown University senior smokes marijuana to get relief from pain and nausea caused by fibromyalgia.
“Most of my friends are still unaware of its legal status as a medicine,” said McGoldrick, who is involved with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, which advocates decriminalization of drug use.
The legal status didn’t influence whether they smoked marijuana, she said.
“I have plenty of friends who choose to use it and plenty who don’t choose to,” she said. “I think it’s an alternative to alcohol for some people.”
Among young adults age 18 to 25 in 2010, 40.6% reported binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the month before taking the survey, about the same rate as 2009.
Meanwhile, methamphetamine use, which raced across the USA for a decade, has declined sharply. The number of past-month users fell from 731,000 in 2006 to 353,000 in 2010.
Since methamphetamine emerged as a problem drug in 2001, states have outlawed or restricted the sale of ingredients used to concoct homemade meth, such as pseudoephedrine found in cold medicines such as Sudafed.
“We’ve seen better attention for law enforcement and policy changes. You can’t get all the Sudafed you want anymore,” said Peter Delany, director of the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at SAMHSA.
The percentage of the population that used prescription drugs, such as narcotic painkillers, for non-medical reasons stayed at 2.7%. The survey found that 55% of them got the drugs free from a friend or relative; 11.4% bought them from a friend or relative, and 5% stole them from a friend or relative. Just 4% purchased them from a drug dealer.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called prescription-drug abuse a public health epidemic, Kerlikowske said, law enforcement agencies cracked down on doctors who write thousands of prescriptions with little or no medical examination, and states created programs to monitor the prescribing of narcotics.
“I think we’re starting to see some positive results, but we’re by no means out of the woods,” Kerlikowske said.
On Wednesday, the Drug Enforcement Administration clamped down on “bath salts,” the nickname for a synthetic drug that some public health experts have identified as an emerging drug problem. The synthetic drugs, often sold at convenience stores under names such as “Cloud Nine” or “Ivory Wave,” allegedly mimic the effects of cocaine or LSD and can cause hallucinations and paranoia. The American Association of Poison Control Centers has logged 4,137 reports of illness from those drugs as of July 31, up from 302 calls in 2010.
The DEA used its emergency powers to temporarily control the sale of three synthetic stimulants, Mephedrone, MDPV and Methylone, used to make the salts. The action makes possessing or selling the chemicals illegal in the United States for at least a year while the DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services study them.