Illegal Drug Use Hits Highest Level in Ten Years

Illegal Drug Use Hits Highest Level in Ten Years

The annual report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that illegal drug use rose last year to the highest level in close to 10 years, due to a sharp increase in marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine use.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the increase in drug use was disappointing but not surprising, considering the number of states approving medicinal use of marijuana and the change in attitude about the danger of illegal drugs. He added that he believes the growing focus on medical marijuana is sending the wrong message to young people.

The report found an eight percent increase in marijuana use, remaining the most commonly used illicit drug. Cocaine abuse continued to decline, down 32 percent from its highest point in 2006.

The survey found that 21.8 million Americans over age 12 reported using illegal drugs in 2009, which is the highest level since the survey was first performed in 2002. In 2006, the high was a little over 20 million. The survey is based on interviews with about 67,500 people, and is considered the most comprehensive sample of American drug use.

There was a 37 percent increase in ecstasy use and a 60 percent increase in methamphetamine use. Kerlikowske said more focus should be returned to ecstasy, as anti-ecstasy campaigns started dwindling as use of the drug began to decline after its peak in the early 2000s.

After a law was passed in 2006 that forced pharmacies and convenience stores to put cold medication containing pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient used in making methamphetamine, meth use saw a decline. However, there has been an increase in “smurfing,” or purchasing these pills from different stores in an effort to stockpile pseudoephedrine-containing medication. Kerlikowske said the increase in meth use could be due to people getting around the law and an increase in meth coming from Mexico.

The SAMHSA survey also found that in 2007, 49.3 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 17 perceived a risk of harm from smoking marijuana once or twice a week, which was down from 54.7 percent in 2007. This suggests that there has been a shift in attitude toward the harmful effects of smoking marijuana, especially among adolescents.

In California, voters will be able to decide whether marijuana should be legalized for medical use. An Associated Press-CNBC poll showed that most Americans oppose legalizing marijuana, but more people believe the drug has medical benefits and should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco.

Source: Associated Press, Sam Hananel, Report: Illegal drug use up sharply last year, September 15, 2010

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