Survey: Young adult Rx drug abuse declines, but illicit drug use remains steady

September 27, 2012

Fewer 18- to 25-year-olds are abusing prescription drugs, but illicit drug use stays constant, according to results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), sponsored by U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Fewer 18- to 25-year-olds are abusing prescription drugs, but illicit drug use stays constant, according to results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), sponsored by U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The NSDUH report annually surveys about 70,000 Americans who are 12 and older.

The number of young adults who reported using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the past month declined 14%, from 2 million in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2011, according to a press release.

Not only is prescription drug abuse decreasing in young adults, but binge and heavy drinking in 12- to 20-year-olds has gone down 3.5% from 2002 to 2011.

"These findings show that national efforts to address the problem of prescription drug misuse may be beginning to bear fruit and we must continue to apply this pressure to drive down this and other forms of substance use," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. "Behind each of these statistics are individuals, families, and communities suffering from the consequences of abuse and addiction. We must continue to promote robust prevention, treatment, and recovery programs throughout our country."

Although prescription drug abuse has declined, the number of Americans 12 and older who use illicit drugs remained the same since the 2010 NSDUH.

Of the illicit drugs used, marijuana continues to be the most-used, with a 1.2% increase in users from 2007 to 2011. Heroin use in people age 12 and older rose 66% from 2007 to 2010 but slightly decreased from 2010 to 2011 by approximately 1,000 people.

"Drug use in this country creates too many obstacles to opportunity -- especially for young people," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy. "The good news is that we are not powerless against this problem. By emphasizing prevention and treatment, as well as smart law enforcement efforts that break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration, we know we can reduce drug use and its consequences in America."

Click here to view the complete survey results.

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