Rx Drug Abuse Is Falling, Shows National Survey | The Fix
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Rx Drug Abuse Is Falling, Shows National Survey

There's a long way to go, but the misuse of prescription drugs fell in 2011.


Painkiller abuse is declining among young
adults. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise


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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released its annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health today; the study surveys 70,000 Americans over age 12 each year. And there are some very positive aspects to the data from 2011: first, the number of people between 18 and 25 who used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes declined 14%—from 2 million in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2011. Second, rates of underage drinking continued their decline since 2002—and the rate of binge drinking (five or more drinks in a single occasion at least once in the past 30 days) dropped from 19.3% in 2002 to 15.8% in 2011. "These findings show that national efforts to address the problem of prescription drug misuse may be beginning to bear fruit and we must continue to apply this pressure to drive down this and other forms of substance use," says SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. "Behind each of these statistics are individuals, families and communities suffering from the consequences of abuse and addiction. We must continue to promote robust prevention, treatment and recovery programs throughout our country."

Not all substance use is declining, however; the use of illicit drugs remained stable at 8.7% of the population. Marijuana is still the most commonly used illicit drug, with 7% of Americans partaking—up from 5.8% in 2007. The number of people using heroin in the past year dropped just a fraction, from 621,000 in 2010 to 620,000 in 2011—but the 2007 figure was just 373,000. Sadly, the report also found that of the 21.6 million Americans who needed treatment for drug or alcohol problems last year, only 2.3 million actually received it in a specialized treatment setting. "Drug use in this country creates too many obstacles to opportunity—especially for young people," says Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy. "The good news is that we are not powerless against this problem. By emphasizing prevention and treatment, as well as smart law enforcement efforts that break the cycle of drug use, crime and incarceration, we know we can reduce drug use and its consequences in America."

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