Prevention Efforts Show Success: Decline in Young Adult Nonmedical Prescription Drug Use

Photo of a mother and daughter.The number of people ages 18 to 25 who used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in the past month declined from 2.0 million in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2011 (14.3 percent decrease), according to SAMHSA’s 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Exit Disclaimer (NSDUH).

“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, J.D.

As the primary source of statistical information on the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in the United States, NSDUH provides unique insights into current trends in the behavioral health issues that affect communities nationwide. The survey, released by SAMHSA in conjunction with the 23nd annual National Recovery Month Exit Disclaimer observance, also showed that the rates of past-month drinking, binge drinking, and heavy drinking among people under age 21 continued to decline from 2002, as did the rate of past-month tobacco use among youth ages 12 to 17 and among young adults ages 18 to 25.

Specifically, 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 the same 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 (consuming 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days) declined from 6.2 percent in 2002 to 4.4 percent in 2011 In addition, the rate of past-month tobacco use among 12- to 17-year-olds continued to decline from 15.2 percent in 2002 to 10 percent in 2011.

However, the survey also found increases in the use of other substances, specifically marijuana and heroin. Marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug, and the current rates of marijuana use increased from 6.7 percent in 2007 to 7.9 percent in 2011 among youth ages 12 to 17, from 16.5 percent in 2007 to 19.0 percent in 2011 among young adults ages 18 to 25, and from 3.9 percent in 2007 to 4.8 percent among adults ages 26 or older. In 2011, 22.5 million Americans ages 12 or older were current users of illicit drugs, including 18.1 million marijuana users – up from 14.5 million in 2007. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: Past Month Illicit Drug Use Among Persons Aged 12 or Older: 2011. Illicit drugs: 22.5, Marijuana: 18.1, Psychotherapeutics: 6.1, Cocaine: 1.4, Hallucinogens: 1.0, Inhalants: 0.6, Heroin: 0.3.  Numbers in Millions.

According to NSDUH, 21.6 million people ages 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2011. Yet only 2.3 million (or 10.8 percent of those who needed treatment) received treatment at a specialty facility—a continuing disparity.

“Behind each of these statistics are individuals, families, and communities suffering from the consequences of abuse and addiction,” Administrator Hyde said. “We must continue to promote robust prevention, treatment, and recovery programs throughout our country.”

To read the full report: 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.