Google Trends Plots Drug Interest Across the U.S.

Google Trends Plots Drug Interest Across the U.S.

By John Lavitt 03/06/15

Whether it's cocaine in New York or meth in L.A., Google Trends knows what kinds of drugs Americans are looking for online.

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Whether it’s the ongoing power of magic mushrooms in Seattle or the dramatic rise in heroin curiosity in Philadelphia, Google Trends can be used to chart the popularity of drugs across the country.

Google Trends is able to show the relative popularity over time of searches for up to five different search phrases. The commercial detox and rehab site Withdrawal.net employed Google Trends to track the popularity of drug searches since 2004.

Focusing on a variety of illegal and legal intoxicants ranging from crystal meth and cocaine to Xanax and Adderall, the research team plotted the most searched for drugs. What is surprising is how the results often undermine expectations generated by media stories. Although the rise in crystal meth abuse has been in the headlines, searches for the drug peaked in 2007, only to taper off for a while before peaking again in 2013.

The most consistently searched for drug since 2001 has been cocaine, with the highest spikes appearing in New York. Adderall is the only drug that came close to the number of cocaine searches between 2011 and 2012. A surprising find was that Adderall is the most commonly searched for drug in New Orleans, while other prescription drugs such as Xanax dominate the southern states.

The researchers also plotted the most popular searches for specific drugs in select cities and states. To identify top cities for each search term, the team looked at the Regional Interest section, filtered by city for each substance. Such scores reflect search volume per capita. For example, methamphetamine and LSD are searched for more than any other drugs in Los Angeles. Since Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, cannabis-related searches have gone through the roof in Denver.

Reflecting a desire for recovery in Massachusetts, the most searches in that state in 2013 were made for Suboxone, the opiate replacement drug. Then again, in March of 2013, Dr. Richard Ng was charged with illegally prescribing Suboxone in Massachusetts, a high profile court case that could have caused a spike in search traffic. Far from a perfect science, employing Google Trends to examine drug abuse in the country certainly is an innovative approach.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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