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Denial About Drug Abuse in America

The 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse provides a accurate and comprehensive one-year snapshot of the problem of drug abuse in America. The survey indicated that the number of Americans who could benefit from drug treatment was significantly larger than previously understood. It also indicated that too many American drug users—more than 4.6 million—who meet the criteria for needing treatment do not recognize that they have a problem. The survey also included for the first time questions about mental illness.

HHS released the annual survey of approximately 70,000 people aged 12 and older as part of the kick-off for the 13th annual National Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Month observance. It is important to note that because of the year-to-year variations in Household Survey data, conclusions about trends are best made by looking at estimates from three or more years.

The Household Survey is conducted by HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“As the new school year begins, it’s yet another opportunity for parents to talk to their children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and smoking. And it’s important that parents, educators and students work together to keep drugs out of their schools and prevent young people from engaging in drug use,” HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. “When young people do not perceive the risk, use increases. This is harmful to youth, harmful to families and harmful to communities. Nothing less than our children’s futures – and their lives – are at stake.”

“We have a large and growing denial gap when it comes to drug abuse and dependency in this country,” said John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “We have a responsibility—as family members, employers, physicians, educators, religious leaders, neighbors, colleagues, and friends—to reach out to help these people. We must find ways to lead them back to drug free lives. And the earlier we reach them, the greater will be our likelihood of success.”

SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie noted that “Behind these numbers are real children and adults impacted by drug use. Drug use continues to be a serious public health crisis that affects every aspect of our society. We must refuse to give up on people who have handed over their aspirations and their futures to drug use. People need to know help is available, treatment is effective and recovery is possible. This is the message of our Recovery Month observance.”

Overall, the Household Survey found that 15.9 million Americans age 12 and older used an illicit drug in the month immediately prior to the survey interview. This represents an estimated 7.1 percent of the population in 2001, compared to an estimated 6.3 percent the previous year.

The report highlights that 10.8 percent of youths 12 to 17 were current drug users in 2001 compared with 9.7 percent in 2000. Youth cigarette use in 2001 was slightly below the rate for 2000, continuing a downward trend since 1999.

Among young adults age 18 to 25, current drug use increased between 2000 and 2001 from 15.9 percent to 18.8 percent. There were no statistically significant changes in the rates of drug use among adults age 26 and older.

Statistics about Marijuana Use

An estimated 2.4 million Americans used marijuana for the first time in 2000. Because of the way trends in the new use of substances are estimated, estimates of first- time use are always a year behind estimates of current use. The annual number of new marijuana users has varied considerably since 1965 when there were an estimated 0.6 million new users. The number of new marijuana users reached a peak in 1976 and 1977 at around 3.2 million. Between 1990 and 1996, the estimated number of new users increased from 1.4 million to 2.5 million and has remained at this level.

The measure of perceived risk in the use of marijuana among youth provides an important predictor of drug use, particularly among youths. As perceived risk of using marijuana decreases, rates of marijuana use tend to increase. Perceived great risk of smoking marijuana once or twice a week decreased from 56.4 percent in 2000 to 53.3 percent in 2001. Among youths age 12 to 17, the percentage reporting great risk in marijuana use declined from 56.0 to 53.5 percent. The number of persons who had ever tried Ecstasy (MDMA) increased from 6.5 million in 2000 to 8.1 million in 2001. There were 786,000 current users in 2001. In 2000, an estimated 1.9 million persons used Ecstasy (MDMA) for the first time compared with 0.7 million in 1998. This change represents a tripling in incidence in just 2 years.

The number of persons reporting use of Oxycontin for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime increased from 221,000 in 1999 to 399,000 in 2000 to 957,000 in 2001. The annual number of new users of pain relievers non medically has also been increasing since the mid-1980s when there were roughly 400,000 initiates. In 2000, there were an estimated 2.0 million.

Statistics on Alcohol Use

About 10.1 million persons age 12 to 20 years reported current use of alcohol in 2001. This number represents 28.5 percent of this age group for whom alcohol is an illicit substance. Of this number, nearly 6.8 million, or 19.0 percent, were binge drinkers and 2.1 million, or 6.0 percent, were heavy drinkers. In 2001, more than 1 in 10 Americans, or 25.1 million persons, reported driving under the influence of alcohol at least once in the 12 months prior to the interview. The rate of driving under the influence of alcohol increased from 10.0 to 11.1 percent between 2000 and 2001. Among young adults age 18 to 25 years, 22.8 percent, drove under the influence of alcohol.

An estimated 66.5 million Americans 12 years or older reported current use of a tobacco product in 2001. This number represents 29.5 percent of the population. Youth cigarette use in 2001 was slightly below the rate for 2000, continuing a downward trend since 1999.

Rates of youth cigarette use were 14.9 percent in 1999, 13.4 percent in 2000, and 13.0 percent in 2001. The annual number of new daily smokers age 12 to 17 decreased from 1.1 million in 1997 to 747,000 in 2000. This translates into a reduction from 3,000 to 2,000 in the number of new youth smokers per day.

The Household Survey includes a series of questions designed to measure more serious problems resulting from use of substances. Overall, an estimated 16.6 million persons age 12 or older were classified with dependence on or abuse of either alcohol or illicit drugs in 2001 (7.3 percent of the population). Of these, 2.4 million were classified with dependence or abuse of both alcohol and illicit drugs, 3.2 million were dependent or abused illicit drugs but not alcohol, and 11.0 million were dependent on or abused alcohol but not illicit drugs. The number of persons with substance dependence or abuse increased from 14.5 million (6.5 percent of the population) in 2000 to 16.6 million (7.3 percent) in 2001.

Between 2000 and 2001, there was a significant increase in the estimated number of persons age 12 or older needing treatment for an illicit drug problem. This number increased from 4.7 million in 2000 to 6.1 million in 2001. During the same period, there was also an increase from 0.8 million to 1.1 million in the number of persons receiving treatment for this problem at a specialty facility. However, the overall number of persons needing but not receiving treatment increased from 3.9 million to 5.0 million.

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