- In a 2010 survey, 8.9% of adults over 12 years old reported they had used drugs.
- Nearly 15 million people have used marijuana, or about 6% of the population. Cocaine, the second-most abused illegal drug, had much lower rates of use than marijuana: about 2.5 million people.
- Between 2008 and 2010, young adults aged 18-25 had the most drastic increase in drug use, going from 19.6% in 2008 to 21.5% in 2010.
- Drug-related illnesses and injuries are the fourth-leading cause of death for adults between 25 and 49 years old.
Although there are many privately-funded drug surveys, the most important studies are conducted by government public health agencies. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducts a study each year called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which polls about 70,000 people over the age of 12 on their use of drugs, including tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs.
Monitoring the Future (MTF) is a long-term study of high school students that surveys nearly 50,000 eighth, tenth and twelfth-graders in the United States. The survey, sent out yearly, asks about drug use as well as other issues affecting teens. Monitoring the Future was established in 1975.
Because these studies are so extensive and poll thousands of people each year, it takes about one year to fully analyze them, meaning that current statistics are usually about one year behind. The most current drug use statistics for 2013 are from 2009-2011.
Individual Drugs and Their Rates of Use
Despite an overall increase in the number of drug users, some drugs are demonstrating less use than in previous years, while some are demonstrating more widespread use.
Increased use of marijuana among all age groups is one important cause of the increased rates of overall drug use.
- In 2011, the average age of first marijuana use is between 17 and 18 years old. This is down slightly from 18.4 years of age in 2010, meaning that more young teens and children tried marijuana for the first time in 2011.
- In 2010, marijuana use had increased from less than 5% of adults using it in 2008 to nearly 7% using it in 2010.
- Possible explanations for increased marijuana use are decriminalization measures in many states and the legalization of marijuana for medical use in other states.
- In 2012, two states, Washington and Colorado, legalized marijuana for recreational use, which may increase the rates of illicit marijuana use in other states.
Illicit use of prescription medication rose dramatically in the middle to late 2000’s, peaking in 2009. Medications that are commonly abused are
- pain medications, especially opiates
- stimulants used to treat ADD/ADHD
Methamphetamine is also included in this category since it is prescribed for several medical conditions.
- In 2009, about 21% of people over 12 reported having used prescription drugs.
- Over 30% of teenagers who use drugs say that their first illicit drug use was some kind of prescription medication.
- Young adults between 18 and 25 years old abuse prescription drugs more than any other age group. In 2011, over 23% of young adults said they had abused prescription drugs.
- Young adults die more frequently as a result of prescription drug abuse than other age groups. In 2010, nearly 3,000 young adults died as a result of medication abuse.
- In 2010, nearly 50,000 people between 18 and 25 years old were admitted to treatment programs for prescription drug addictions, and over 190,000 needed an emergency room visit.
Overall cocaine use in 2011 was about the same as 2009 and 2010. The one statistically significant change in cocaine use was a decrease in use by young adults aged 18-25.
- 14.9% of adults 18-25 had used cocaine in 2009. In 2010, this number decreased to 13.4% and decreased again in 2011 to 12.4%.
- The average age of first use is about 20 years old. 75% of people are over 18 years old when they try cocaine for the first time.
- There are about 2 million people addicted to cocaine.
- Nearly half of emergency room visits are cocaine-related injuries and illnesses.
- Cocaine deaths are the most common illicit drug-related deaths in the United States. Three times as many people die from cocaine-related problems than any other illegal drug.
- About 10% of people who use cocaine will develop an addiction to it.
- Heroin use nearly doubled between 2005 and 2011, from about 90,000 users in 2005 to 178,000 users in 2011. The number of heroin users in 2011 was actually lower than in 2009, when it was 187,000.
- About 13% of eighth-graders and 30% of twelfth-graders say they can easily obtain heroin if they wanted to.
- Heroin use increased in teenagers 12-17, from .2% of teens reporting heroin use in 2010 to .3% in 2011. Heroin use among adults was unchanged from 2010 to 2011.
- Half of accidental drug deaths in 2008 were related to heroin use.
The most commonly-abused drugs are seeing little change in their overall use. The use of some drugs, such as cocaine, is decreasing among certain age groups, but overall drug use still remains a significant public health risk in the United States. Substance abuse causes around $11 billion in health care costs, and a further $193 billion in crime, missed work and other damages. With rates of marijuana, heroin and prescription drug use steadily climbing, even more serious consequences of widespread substance abuse could be on the horizon, including higher rates of death, injury and health care and economic costs.