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Marijuana generates overall increase in illicit drug use in national survey

September 10, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Some upward trends in marijuana use are largely responsible for an overall increase in illicit drug use that is documented in the newly released 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Other findings in the annual survey of individuals ages 12 and older show continued progress on rates of alcohol and tobacco use, although the extent of underage and young-adult alcohol use remains a significant concern.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released survey results Sept. 10 as part of National Recovery Month observance activities. The nationally representative survey of nearly 67,500 people found that in 2014, a total of 10.2% of Americans ages 12 and older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days; that is the highest overall percentage of current use recorded since 2002. The 2013 percentage was 9.4%.

On the highly watched issue of opioid use, the survey found a slight downward trend in non-medical use of pain relievers but a slight increase in heroin use. The 1.6% overall prevalence rate for current non-medical use of pain relievers was similar to the 2013 rate but lower than rates in most years during the 2002-2012 period. Current heroin use occurred in 0.2% of the population in 2014, compared with 0.1% the previous year.

SAMHSA acting administrator Kara Enomoto said in a statement with regard to ongoing challenges around opioid misuse, “Fortunately there is effective action being taken by the Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with initiatives to reduce prescription opioid and heroin-related overdose, death and dependence...”

Marijuana and prescription drugs used non-medically continued to be the two most prominent illicit drugs in 2014. Current marijuana use overall was 8.4% in 2014, higher than rates in any year in the 2002-2013 period. The rate of current non-medical use of pain relievers was 1.6%, similar to the 2013 rate but lower than rates in most years from 2002-2012.

The rate of past-month heavy alcohol use (5 or more drinks on the same occasion on five or more of the past 30 days) was 6.2%, consistent with data from 2011-2013. But the survey showed that the prevalence of heavy and binge drinking (5 or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days) among adolescents and young adults, while declining in recernt years, remains somewhat high. Current, binge, and heavy alcohol use rates among underage individuals were 22.8%, 13.8% and 3.4%. For young adults ages 18 to 25, 37.7% reported binge drinking and 10.8% were heavy drinkers.

Tobacco use continues an overall pattern of decline, according to the survey. Among adolescents ages 12 to 17, a current cigarette smoking rate that stood at 13% in 2002 is down to 4.9% in 2014.

The full 2014 survey report can be accessed here.

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