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NSDUH: Some encouraging numbers on use, but concerns about treatment gap

September 6, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Numerous drug use rates in the U.S. are slightly dropping or doing no worse than holding steady, but little progress is being made in getting substance use treatment services to a significant number of individuals who need them. This is the picture being offered by the latest data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), released this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

According to the 2012 NSDUH report, only 10.8% of the 23.1 million Americans who needed treatment for a substance use disorder last year received these services in a specialty treatment setting.

In the more widely reported results from the survey of individuals ages 12 and older, rates of alcohol use, illicit drug use and non-medical use of prescription  drugs held relatively steady, mostly maintaining progress shown in previous annual surveys. Rates of marijuana and heroin use remained higher in 2012 than they had been in 2007, and the marijuana trends will continue to be watched significantly given the current close attention to marijuana policy developments at the federal and state level.

The 2012 survey found that 7.3% of Americans were current users of marijuana, up from 7% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2007. Past-month use of marijuana is higher in every age group in 2012 than it was in 2007, although among 12-to-17 year olds past-month use fell from 7.9% in 2011 to 7.2% in 2012.

Numbers on prescription drug misuse are more encouraging overall. Past-month non-medical use of prescription drugs among young adults ages 18 to 25 largely maintained lower levels from rates of a few years ago (the rate was 5.3% in 2012, compared with 6.4% in 2009).

“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,” Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) director Gil Kerlikowske said in a news release.