Meth Use Rises Among Youth, Heroin Use Declines

By Maggie Ethridge 09/19/18
“Use of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine are all up. So we aren’t just in an opioids crisis. It’s an addiction crisis.”
group of teen boys hanging out

In another reminder of how complicated addiction and its treatment is, survey results from 67,500 Americans in 2017 found that while new heroin users in certain age groups have almost declined by half, methamphetamine and marijuana use has increased.

The survey, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), parsed survey takers by age groups, types of drugs used, amounts of drugs used, and the starting point for the use or abuse of each drug.

The most dramatic, positive findings were about new heroin users: 81,000 reported using heroin for the first time in 2017, less than half of the 170,000 reported the year before.

However, when looking at the 18-25 age group, the decline in new heroin users was “almost imperceptible” according to USA Todaythough the 18-25 category also reported less prescription opioid abuse. SAMHSA estimated that in 2015, 8.5% of people in this vulnerable age range misused prescription opioids; in 2017, that number was 7%.

Yet marijuana and meth use for youths 12-17 increased from all previous years. Marijuana use for both youth and adults was associated with opioid use, heavy alcohol use, and major depressive episodes.

The effects of heavy marijuana use on mental health has been put to the back burner as popular culture embraces the positive aspects of the drug. Some research shows a direct correlation between marijuana overuse and mental distress and illness.

With all the publicity surrounding deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl, addiction specialist Sally Satel says most addiction experts had anticipated a move away from opioids and toward another drug.

"I was waiting for this," Satel told USA Today, "This is how it works. People still want to alter their mental state. So they look for what’s cheap and what’s available and the reputation of the drug." 

Jim Beiting, CEO of Transitions, Northern Kentucky’s largest drug treatment and recovery organization, told USA Today that meth is "magnetic" for people with addiction trying to move from opioids. “It’s cheaper," he says. "It’s more readily available, (and) the potency is higher than it used to be."

Other positive news from the SAMHSA report reveals that more people struggling with heroin addiction are seeking treatment, up 53.7% from previous years. This seems to reflect on the increased funding, countrywide, toward improving access and quality of addiction treatment services.

The news is mixed, but overall illuminates how bad the addiction crisis remains in our country. James Carrol, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Washington Times, “Use of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine are all up. So we aren’t just in an opioids crisis. It’s an addiction crisis.”

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.