National survey shows reduction in non-medical prescription drug use among young adults

SAMHSA News Release

Date: 9/24/2012 12:30 PM Media Contact: SAMHSA Press Office Telephone: 240-276-2130

National survey shows reduction in non-medical prescription drug use among young adults

Report also shows reductions in binge and heavy drinking among underage youth
The number of people aged 18 to 25 who used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the past month declined 14 percent — from 2.0 million in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2011 — the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced today, during the 23rd annual national observance of National Recovery Month. Non-medical use of prescription drugs among children aged 12 to 17 and adults aged 26 or older remained unchanged.


In addition, the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a survey conducted annually by SAMHSA, showed that the rates of past month drinking, binge drinking and heavy drinking among underage people continued a decline from 2002. Past month alcohol use among 12 to 20 year olds declined from 28.8 percent in 2002 to 25.1 percent in 2011, while binge drinking (consuming 5 or more drinks on a single occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days) declined from 19.3 percent in 2002 to 15.8 percent in 2011, and heavy drinking declined from 6.2 percent in 2002 to 4.4 percent in 2011.


Overall, the use of illicit drugs among Americans aged 12 and older remained stable since the last survey in 2010. The NSDUH shows that 22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users — (8.7 percent of the population 12 and older in 2011 versus 8.9 percent in 2010).


Marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug. In 2011, 7.0 percent of Americans were current users of marijuana — up from 5.8 percent in 2007. Among youths aged 12 to 17, the rate of current marijuana use remained about the same from 2009 (7.4 percent) to 2011 (7.9 percent). Increases in the rate of current marijuana use occurred from 2007 to 2011 among adolescents (ages 12-17), young adults (ages 18 to 25), and adults (ages 26 or older). Additionally, the number of people aged 12 and older who used heroin in the past year rose from 373,000 in 2007 to 621,000 in 2010 and 620,000 in 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.”


“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.”


The 2011 NSDUH showed some areas of continued improvement in terms of lower use levels,

including reductions of 44 and 40 percent, respectively, in the number of past month users of cocaine and methamphetamine since 2006 and a 19 percent reduction in the number of past month users of hallucinogens between 2010 and 2011.


The underage tobacco rate of past month use among 12 to 17 year olds continued to decline from 15.2 percent in 2002, to 10.7 percent in 2010 and 10.0 percent in 2011.


The 2011 NSDUH report shows the continuation of the vast disparity between the number of people needing treatment for a substance abuse problem and the number who actually receive specialty treatment.  According to the report 21.6 million Americans needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2011 and only 2.3 million

(or 10.8 percent of those in need) received it in a specialized treatment setting. Although the number needing treatment declined between 2010 (23.2 million) and 2011, the percent of those in need that received specialty treatment in 2011 was statistically unchanged from 2010 (11.2 percent).
NSDUH is a scientifically conducted annual survey of approximately 70,000 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older.  Because of its statistical power, it is a primary source of statistical information on the scope and nature of many substance abuse and mental health issues affecting the nation.
The complete survey findings are available on the SAMHSA web site at:


For more information about SAMHSA visit: