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Illicit Drug Use

Race/Ethnicity 2005

  • In 2004 and 2005, rates of past month illicit drug use varied significantly among racial/ethnic groups, with the highest rates generally occurring among persons reporting two or more races, American Indians or Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, and with the lowest rates among Asians
  • Among whites, past month use of marijuana and any illicit drug was lower in non-metropolitan counties than in large or small metropolitan counties, and nonmedical use of prescription drugs was lower in non-metropolitan counties than in small metropolitan counties
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives living in large metropolitan counties were less likely than their counterparts living in non-metropolitan counties to have used prescription drugs nonmedically in the past month (0.7 vs. 4.4 percent)

Illicit drug use has been shown to vary by race/ethnicity and to differ between urban and rural counties. However, relatively little research has focused on how racial/ethnic differences in illicit drug use vary from one type of county to another or how illicit drug use might vary among members of a single racial/ethnic group, depending on the type of county in which they live.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) asks persons aged 12 or older to report on their use of illicit drugs during the past month. Illicit drugs refer to marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), inhalants, hallucinogens, heroin, or prescription-type drugs used nonmedically. NSDUH also asks a series of questions about race/ethnicity. First, respondents are asked whether they are of Hispanic origin; then they are asked to identify which racial group best describes them: white, black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Asian, or other. Respondents may select more than one race. Data also are gathered on the type of county in which the respondents lived at the time of the interview. Metropolitan areas include counties that are inside metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), as defined by the Office of Management and Budget. Large metropolitan areas have a population of 1 million or more. Small metropolitan areas have a population of fewer than 1 million. Non-metropolitan areas include counties that are outside MSAs.

This issue of The NSDUH Report presents estimates of past month illicit drug use, past month marijuana use, and past month nonmedical use of prescription-type drugs, by race/ethnicity, in metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. Marijuana use and nonmedical use of prescription-type drugs are highlighted because they were the most common illicit drug use behaviors among persons aged 12 or older in 2004 and 2005. All estimates are annual averages based on combined data from the 2004 and 2005 NSDUHs.

Illicit Drug Use, by Race/Ethnicity

Combined data from 2004 and 2005 indicate that 8.0 percent of persons aged 12 or older (an estimated 19.4 million persons) used an illicit drug in the past month, with 6.0 percent (14.6 million persons) using marijuana and 2.6 percent (6.2 million persons) using a prescription-type drug nonmedically. Rates of past month use varied significantly among racial/ethnic groups, with the highest rates generally occurring among persons reporting two or more races, American Indians or Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, and with the lowest rates among Asians. For example, 3.1 percent of Asians had used an illicit drug in the past month, while 12.7 percent of persons reporting two or more races had done so.

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