National Survey Shows a Rise in Illicit Drug Use from 2008 To 2010

The use of illicit drugs among Americans increased between 2008 and 2010 according to a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that 22.6 million Americans 12 or older (8.9 percent of the population) were current illicit drug users. The rate of use in 2010 was similar to the rate in 2009 (8.7 percent), but remained above the 2008 rate (8 percent).An increased rate in the current use of marijuana seems to be one of the prime factors in the overall rise in illicit drug use. Another disturbing trend is the continuing rise in the rate of current illicit drug use among young adults aged 18 to 25—from 19.6 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent in 2010. This increase was also driven in large part by a rise in the rate of current marijuana use among this population.

Non-Medical Use of Pain Relievers

  • In 2010, the number of new users of pain relievers was 2.0 million, a number that has remained fairly constant since 2005 and was a decrease from 2002, 2003, and 2004 levels (2.3 million, 2.5 million, and 2.4 million, respectively). The average age at first nonmedical use of pain relievers was 21.0 years.
  • In 2010, the number of new nonmedical users of OxyContin® aged 12 or older was 598,000, with an average age at first use of 22.8 years among those aged 12 to 49. These estimates are similar to those for 2009 (584,000 and 22.3 years, respectively).
  • The majority (55 percent) of persons aged 12 and older who had used prescription pain relievers non-medically in the past 12 months received them from a friend or relative for free. Only 4.4 percent of those misusing pain relievers in the past year reported getting their supply from a drug dealer and 0.4 percent bought it on the Internet.
  • In 2010, there were 140,000 persons aged 12 or older who had used heroin for the first time within the past 12 months. The average age at first use among recent initiates aged 12 to 49 was 21.3 years, significantly lower than the 2009 estimate (25.5 years).

As in previous years, the 2010 NSDUH shows a vast disparity between the number of people needing specialized treatment for a substance abuse problem and the number who actually receive it. According to the survey, 23.1 million Americans aged 12 or older (9.1 percent) needed specialized treatment for a substance abuse problem, but only 2.6 million (or roughly 11.2 percent of them) received it.

NSDUH is a scientifically conducted annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older. Because of its statistical power, it is the nation’s primary source of statistical information on the scope and nature of many substance abuse behavioral health issues affecting the nation.

The complete survey findings are available at:

Source: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – September 8, 2011