Efforts to Curb Prescription Drug Abuse Are Making a Difference Among Young People

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After months and years of bad news about an epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has some good news to share. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is part of HHS and has recently released findings from a national survey which show that overall drug use is down in America, including abuse of prescription drugs. Marijuana was one of only two drugs whose use has increased in the past year.

The News in Numbers

The SAMHSA report was based on over 67,000 interviews with Americans age 12 and older. According to that report:

  • 8.7 percent of Americans say that they use illegal drugs
  • 7 percent of Americans say that they use marijuana
  • 2.4 percent admit using psychotherapeutic drugs
  • .5 percent report cocaine use
  • .4 percent say they use hallucinogenic drugs
  • 3.6 percent reported abusing prescription drugs in 2011
  • 7 million Americans said they abused prescription drugs in 2010
  • 6.1 million Americans said they misused prescription drugs in 2011
  • 300,000 fewer younger adults reported misusing prescription drugs in 2011 versus 2010
  • Abuse of tobacco and alcohol also showed declines
  • 6,400 Americans start abusing a substance every day
  • Marijuana use/possession is responsible for more than 800,000 arrests annually

The Demographic Which Registered the Biggest Reduction

The biggest declines occurred in the 18-25 year old age bracket. That is significant for a couple of reasons. Reason number one is that this demographic represents nearly one third of all drug users. Reason number two is that this is an age when most Americans start college, enter the job market and begin their families. Declines in drug abuse during this period bode well for those major life decisions. Nonetheless, marijuana remains the most often abused drug regardless of age.

The Efforts Behind the Decline in Abuse

The drop in prescription drug abuse in particular may largely be due to concerted efforts by state and federal agencies. In recent years, law enforcement officials at both levels have worked to initiate drug monitoring programs in nearly all of the 50 states. Those programs have helped to reduce doctor shopping and to identify problem prescribing physicians. Credit is also due to public health education efforts aimed specifically at the prescription drug abuse issue.

The news of an overall drop in use of illicit drugs is good news indeed. The drop in alcohol and tobacco use is also a positive step. Consistency between law enforcement and public policy could be behind the trends away from misuse. The disharmony between legality and public policy which embraces medical marijuana use could explain why marijuana use continues to climb.

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