National Survey Highlights Underage Drinking Decline, Rising Prescription Drug Misuse

By John Lavitt 09/09/16

An estimated 119 million Americans reported using a prescription psychotherapeutic drug last year.

National Survey Highlights Underage Drinking Decline, Rising Prescription Drug Misuse

Marking the 27th annual observance of National Recovery Month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed the latest findings from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

On Thursday, Michael Botticelli, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Kana Enomoto, the Principal Deputy Administrator of SAMHSA, led a press conference to discuss the report's findings. While focusing on the misuse of prescription pain relievers, the NSDUH report reveals that underage substance use levels have remained constant despite reductions in underage drinking and smoking. 

Although underage drinking and alcohol use continued to decrease among adolescents (aged 12 to 17) and young adults (aged 18 to 25), illegal drug use has largely stayed the same.

Despite the progress on some fronts, Enomoto said, “Our nation still faces a public health crisis of untreated mental and substance use disorders. In 2015, one out of five adults in America met criteria for a mental illness or substance use disorder and only 39% of them received services. These are potentially life-threatening, disabling conditions. Our country must redouble its efforts to provide evidence-based prevention and treatment services in every community to ensure all Americans get the help and hope they need to lead healthy and productive lives.”

SAMHSA released a second report detailing the use and misuse of prescription drugs. Both reports highlight a continued significant treatment gap for substance use disorders. In 2015, although an estimated 21.7 million people needed help for addiction, only 2.3 million received treatment at a rehab facility.

As Botticelli pointed out, “That is why the President has repeatedly called for $1.1 billion in new funding for states to expand access to treatment. Every day that passes without Congressional action to provide these additional resources is a missed opportunity to save lives.”

Alcohol use among adolescents did continue to decline, dropping from 17.6% in 2002 to 9.6% in 2015. Among young adults, alcohol use decreased from 60.5% in 2002 to 58.3% in 2015. The rates of alcohol use disorder also dropped for young adults from 17.7% in 2002 to 10.9% in 2015. There was an increase, however, in past month cocaine use for young adults from 1.1% in 2013 to 1.7% in 2015.

Although heroin use levels dropped slightly from 2014 to 2015 for every age group, there was a doubling of the number of heroin users from 2002 to 2015, said Botticelli. Overall, the opioid epidemic remains the number one issue to be addressed, particularly in light of the rise in prescription drug misuse and the recent onset of the fentanyl abuse problem. 

The 2015 NSDUH report on prescription medications, which includes tranquilizers, stimulants, sedatives and painkillers, opens the door to a greater understanding of prescription medication misuse and abuse. Among people aged 12 and older, around 119 million Americans used a prescription psychotherapeutic drug in 2015, 6.4 million currently misuse psychotherapeutic medications and about 3.8 million people—almost three-fifths of the total—are misusing and abusing prescription painkillers on a regular basis. 

During the press conference, Botticelli reiterated the need for action. “We need to increase the capacity of people getting treatment across the country," he said. "We need to expand access to treatment and we need to do it now. Like every other disease, people who want treatment should be able to get it … We need Congress to act.”

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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, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.