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Jennifer Lloyd
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
October 2002

Drug Use Trends


The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Information Clearinghouse has prepared this fact sheet to summarize drug use trends in the United States. Populations covered in this fact sheet include the general household populations, students, active military personnel, and criminal offenders, as surveyed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Some individuals, such as homeless people, are difficult to reach using standard survey techniques, so little is known about their drug use. For information on survey methodologies, please refer to the Sources section on page 5. The data used to prepare figures are presented at the end of the report.

General Population

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of HHS have sponsored several national surveys to track drug use trends. One of the most widely known is the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), which interviews persons age 12 and older living in households about drug and alcohol use. In 1991, the survey was expanded to include civilians living on military installments, persons living in college dormitories, and persons living in homeless shelters. Since October 1, 1992, the survey has been sponsored by SAMHSA. Earlier surveys were sponsored by NIDA. In 1999, the survey methodology changed, therefore making data from previous years incomparable. According to NHSDA (table 1), in 1979, 14.1% of the population age 12 and older reported using an illicit drug in the past 30 days. Between 1999 and 2001, past month illicit drug use for persons age 12 and older increased from 6.3% to 7.1%.

In 2001, an estimated 0.7% of the population age 12 and older reported using cocaine, including crack, at least once in the past month. Such use peaked in 1979 for 18- to 25-year-olds at 9.9%; in 1982 for 12- to 17-year-olds at 1.9%; and in 1985 for 26- to 34-year-olds at 6.3% (table 2).

Table 2. Past month use of cocaine, by age of respondents: 1979 to 2001
 Percentage reporting use
Year 12–17 18–25 26–34 35 and older
1979 1.5% 9.9% 3.0% 0.2%
1982 1.9 7.0 3.5 0.5
1985 1.5 8.1 6.3 0.5
1988 1.2 4.8 2.8 0.4
1990 0.6 2.3 1.9 0.2
1991 0.4 2.2 1.9 0.5
1992 0.3 2.0 1.5 0.2
1993 0.4 1.6 1.0 0.4
1994 0.3 1.2 1.3 0.4
1995 0.8 1.3 1.2 0.4
1996 0.6 2.0 1.5 0.4
1997 1.0 1.2 0.9 0.5
1998 0.8 2.0 1.2 0.5
DATA BREAK
1999 0.5 1.7 1.2 0.4
2000 0.6 1.4 0.8 0.3
2001 0.4 1.9 1.1 0.5
Note: The survey was conducted in 1979, 1982, 1985, 1988, and 19902001.

Data Break: Changes made to the design and execution of NHSDA in 1999 make the 1999, 2000, and 2001 data incomparable to previous years. However, the 1999, 2000, and 2001 data are comparable to each other.

Source: National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

In 2001, the percentage of Americans reporting marijuana use at least once in the past month was 5.4% of the population age 12 and older. Reported use of marijuana in the past month peaked in 1979 for 12- to 17-year-olds at 14.2%; for 18- to 25-year-olds at 35.6%; and for 26- to 34-year-olds at 19.7% (table 3).

Table 3. Past month use of marijuana, by age of respondents: 1979 to 2001
 Percentage reporting use
Year 12-17 18-25 26-34 35 and older
1979 14.2% 35.6% 19.7% 2.9%
1982 9.9 27.2 19.0 3.9
1985 10.2 21.7 19.0 2.6
1988 5.4 15.3 12.3 1.8
1990 4.4 12.7 9.5 2.4
1991 3.6 12.9 7.7 2.6
1992 3.4 10.9 9.3 2.0
1993 4.0 11.1 7.5 2.4
1994 6.0 12.1 6.9 2.3
1995 8.2 12.0 6.7 1.8
1996 7.1 13.2 6.3 2.0
1997 9.4 12.8 6.0 2.6
1998 8.3 13.8 5.5 2.5
DATA BREAK
1999 7.2 14.2 5.4 2.2
2000 7.2 13.6 5.9 2.3
2001 8.0 16.0 6.8 2.4
Note: The survey was conducted in 1979, 1982, 1985, 1988, and 19902001.

Data Break: Changes made to the design and execution of NHSDA in 1999 make the 1999, 2000, and 2001 data incomparable to previous years. However, the 1999, 2000, and 2001 data are comparable to each other.

Source: National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.


Youth

Another major national survey tracking illicit drug abuse trends is the Monitoring the Future Study. When this annual NIDA-sponsored survey began in 1975, 30.7% of high school seniors reported using an illicit drug in the previous month. This figure climbed to 38.9% in 1978 and 1979, but declined to 14.4% in 1992. Since 1992, this number has increased to 25.7% in 2001 (figure 1).

In 1991, the Monitoring the Future Study began surveying 8th and 10th graders. Past month drug use increased from 6.8% in 1992 to 14.6% in 1996 for 8th graders and from 11% in 1992 to 23.2% in 1996 for 10th graders. In 2001, past month drug use among 8th graders decreased to 11.7% (figure 2).

Increased use of marijuana has been especially pronounced. Between 1992 and 1997, past month use of marijuana increased from 11.9% to 23.7% among 12th graders; 8.1% to 20.5% among 10th graders; and 3.7% to 10.2% among 8th graders.

Reported use of marijuana by high school seniors during the past month peaked in 1978 at 37.1% and declined to its lowest level of 11.9% in 1992.

Since 1998, current estimates of past month use of marijuana have remained relatively unchanged. In 2001, past month marijuana use among 12th, 10th, and 8th graders was estimated at 22.4%, 19.8%, and 9.2%, respectively.

Reported use of cocaine by high school seniors within the past month increased from 1.9% to 5.8% between 1975 and 1981. The highest level of cocaine use by this group was reported in 1985 at 6.7% and declined to a low of 1.3% in 1992 and 1993. In 2001, past month cocaine use was 2.1% among high school seniors.

Researchers, noting the emergence of crack, included it in the survey in 1986 as a separate question. In 1987, 1.3% of high school seniors reported using crack at least once within the past month. This number decreased to 1.1% in 2001.

Between 1991 and 2001, the use of most major drug types increased among 8th and 10th graders. After 6 years of increases, 8th graders' past month marijuana use began to decrease in 1997, falling to 10.2%. This decline continued through 2001 to 9.2%. The use of inhalants declined after peaking in 1995. In 2001, 8th graders reported past month use of inhalants at 4%, a higher rate than the 2.4% reported by 10th graders and the 1.7% reported by 12th graders.

Military

The U.S. Department of Defense's Survey of Health-Related Behavior Among Military Personnel, which is conducted about every 3 years, examines the rates of drug use in the armed forces. In 1980, 27.6% of military respondents polled admitted using an illegal drug within the past 30 days. This proportion fell to 2.7% in 1998 (table 4). Of the drugs abused within the past 30 days, marijuana had the highest percentage of use at 1.4%.

In 1980, 36.7% of military respondents polled admitted to using an illicit drug within the past year. This number fell to 6.0% in 1998 (table 4). Male respondents (6.2%) were more likely than female respondents (4.6%) to have used an illicit drug within the past year.

Emergency Department Data

Since October 1, 1992, SAMHSA has sponsored the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). Earlier surveys were sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, DOJ, and then by NIDA. Although this indicator of drug abuse consequences began in the early 1970s, nationally representative data are currently available only for 1978 through 2001.

The number of drug-related emergency department episodes increased from 323,100 in 1978 to an all time high of 638,484 in 2001. In 2001, cocaine-related episodes were at their highest level since the DAWN survey began in 1978; they constituted 30% (193,034) of all emergency department drug-related episodes (figure 3).

Between 1990 and 2001, marijuana/hashish-related episodes increased 604% (from 15,706 to 110,512). Between 1990 and 2000, the number of heroin-related episodes increased 180% (from 33,884 to 94,804). In 2001, heroin-related episodes decreased to 93,064. Methamphetamine/speed-related episodes were at their highest in 1994 (17,537) and 1997 (17,154). In 2001, there were 14,923 methamphetamine/speed-related episodes.

Criminal Offenders Population

The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducts surveys of State and Federal prison populations every 5 years. The Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities began in 1974 and samples individual characteristics of State prison inmates including their prior drug and alcohol use. The Survey of Inmates in Federal Correctional Facilities, which began in 1991, collects the same information from inmates in Federal prisons.

Table 5. Prior drug use by State prison inmates: 1986, 1991, and 1997
  Percentage of State prison inmates who used drugs
  In month before offense At time of offense
Type of drug 1986 1991 1997 1986 1991 1997
Any drug 56% 50% 57% 36% 31% 33%
Marijuana 46 32 39 18 11 15
Cocaine/crack 20 25 25 10 15 15
Heroin/opiates 11 10 9 7 6 6
Hallucinogens 7 4 4 3 2 2
Note: The Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities was conducted in 1974, 1979, 1986, 1991, and 1997.

Source: Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991; Substance Abuse and Treatment of State and Federal Prisoners, 1997.

Survey data showed that drug use by State prison inmates in the month before their offense declined from 56% in 1986 to 50% in 1991 (table 5). However, between 1991 and 1997 the percentage of State prisoners who reported using drugs in the month before their offense increased from 50% in 1991 to 57% in 1997. Drug use at the time of offense for State prison inmates declined from 36% in 1986 to 31% in 1991. This percentage increased from 31% in 1991 to 33% in 1997.

Survey data showed an increase in the number of Federal prisoners reporting drug use in the month before their offense from 32% in 1991 to 45% in 1997. Drug use at the time of offense for Federal prison inmates increased from 17% in 1991 to 22% in 1997 (table 6).

The Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program was begun in 1987 to collect information on drug use among urban arrestees. In 1997, the National Institute of Justice expanded and reengineered the DUF study and renamed it the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program. ADAM is a network of 34 research sites in select U.S. cities.

Table 6. Prior drug use by Federal prison inmates: 1991 and 1997
  Percentage of State prison inmates who used drugs
  In month before offense At time of offense
Type of drug 1991 1997 1991 1997
Any drug 32% 45% 17% 22%
Marijuana 19 30 6 11
Cocaine/crack 15 20 8 9
Heroin/opiates 6 5 4 3
Hallucinogens 1 2 0.5 0.8
Note: The Survey of Inmates in Federal Correctional Facilities was conducted in 1991 and 1997.

Source: Substance Abuse and Treatment of State and Federal Prisoners, 1997.

In 1988, the percentage of adult male arrestees testing positive for any drug at the time of arrest ranged from 54% in Kansas City, Missouri, and Indianapolis to 83% in New York City. For adult females the range was from 44% in St. Louis to 81% in Detroit. By 1999, the percentage of adult males testing positive for any drug at the time of arrest ranged from 50% in San Antonio to 77% in Atlanta. For female arrestees, the range was from 22% in Laredo to 81% in New York City. During the first 9 months of 2001 (January to September), preliminary results for adult males testing positive for any drug at the time of arrest ranged from 51.8% in Dallas to 77.5% in New York City.

Trends in drug use among arrestees vary by drug type and across sites. Between 1988 and 1991, marijuana use declined in most DUF sites. After 1992, marijuana use increased at most sites. In 1999, positive results for male arrestees ranged from 28% in Las Vegas to 51% in Omaha; the range for female arrestees was from 9% in Laredo to 39% in Oklahoma City. During the first 9 months of 2001 (January to September), preliminary results for adult males testing positive for marijuana use at the time of arrest ranged from 27.2% in Laredo to 58% in Omaha.

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.

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Table 1. Trends in the percentage of persons reporting any illicit drug use: 1979 to 2001
Age of respondent and recency of drug use1979 1985 1988 1990 1993 1996 1998 D
A
T
A


B
R
E
A
K
1999 2000 2001
12–17  
Ever 31.8% 27.4% 22.8% 20.9% 16.4% 22.1% 21.3% 27.6% 26.9% 28.4%
Past Year 24.3 20.7 14.9 14.1 11.9 16.7 16.4 19.8 18.6 20.8
Past 30 days 16.3 13.2 8.1 7.1 5.7 9.0 9.9 9.8 9.7 10.8
18–25  
Ever 69.0% 62.9% 58.1% 54.9% 50.2% 48.0% 48.1% 52.6% 51.2% 55.6%
Past year 45.5 37.4 29.1 26.1 24.2 26.8 27.4 29.1 27.9 31.9
Past 30 days 38.0 25.3 17.9 15.0 13.6 15.6 16.1 16.4 15.9 18.8
26–34  
Ever 49.0% 59.5% 61.2% 59.8% 58.2% 53.1% 50.6% 53.2% 50.9% 53.3%
Past year 23.0 26.2 19.1 18.4 14.6 14.6 12.7 13.5 13.4 16.1
Past 30 days 20.8 23.1 14.7 10.9 9.5 8.4 7.0 6.8 7.8 8.8
35 and older  
Ever 11.8% 18.1% 20.0% 22.5% 26.1% 29.0% 31.8% 35.7% 35.5% 38.4%
Past year 3.9 5.5 5.1 5.2 5.5 5.3 5.5 5.9 5.5 6.3
Past 30 days 2.8 3.9 2.3 3.1 3.0 2.9 3.3 3.4 3.3 3.5
All (ages 12 and other)  
Ever 31.3% 34.4% 34.0% 34.2% 34.2% 34.8% 35.8% 39.7% 38.9% 41.7%
Past year 17.5 16.3 12.4 11.7 10.3 10.8 10.6 11.5 11.0 12.6
Past 30 days 14.1 12.1 7.7 6.7 5.9 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.3 7.1
Note: Any illicit drug use includes use of marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, heroin, or nonmedical use of sedatives, tranquilizers, stimulants, or analgesics. Prior to 1979, data were not totaled for overall drug use and instead were published by specific drug type only.

Data Break: Changes made to the design and execution of NHSDA in 1999 make the 1999, 2000, and 2001 data incomparable to previous years. However, the 1999, 2000, and 2001 data are comparable to each other.

Source: National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

 

Data for figure 1. Past month drug use by high school seniors, by drug type: 1975 to 2001
  Percentage reporting use
Year Marijuana Cocaine Any drug
1975 27.% 1.9% 30.7%
1976 32.2 2.0 34.2
1977 35.4 2.9 37.6
1978 37.1 3.9 38.9
1979 36.5 5.7 38.9
1980 33.7 5.2 37.2
1981 31.6 5.8 36.9
1982 28.5 5.0 32.5
1983 27.0 4.9 30.5
1984 25.2 5.8 29.2
1985 25.7 6.7 29.7
1986 23.4 6.2 27.1
1987 21.0 4.3 24.7
1988 18.0 3.4 21.3
1989 16.7 2.8 19.7
1990 14.0 1.9 17.2
1991 13.8 1.4 16.4
1992 11.9 1.3 14.4
1993 15.5 1.3 18.3
1994 19.0 1.5 21.9
1995 21.2 1.8 23.8
1996 21.9 2.0 24.6
1997 23.7 2.3 26.2
1998 22.8 2.4 25.6
1999 23.1 2.6 25.9
2000 21.6 2.1 24.9
2001 22.4 2.1 25.7
Source: Monitoring the Future Study.


Data for figure 3. Emergency department drug mentions for selected drug groups, total drug mentions, and total drug episodes: 1978 to 2001
Year Cocaine Heroin/ morphine Marijuana/ hashish Meth/ speed Total drug mentions Total drug episodes
1978 3,438 11,666 10,581 3,102 492,356 323,100
1979 5,347 11,900 11,284 3,845 511,124 329,109
1980 7,712 14,707 10,218 5,092 502,225 315,624
1981 9,750 17,112 10,644 6,469 534,828 329,923
1982 12,370 22,965 11,584 6,596 538,649 330,611
1983 15,188 25,100 10,765 6,278 510,879 314,616
1984 24,368 26,449 12,062 7,487 531,049 327,297
1985 28,827 28,877 12,651 6,135 536,135 334,503
1986 51,666 28,622 13,171 6,023 550,070 352,477
1987 91,791 32,696 22,276 7,707 664,554 396,414
1988 101,578 38,063 19,962 8,992 668,153 403,578
1989 110,013 41,656 20,703 8,722 713,392 425,904
1990 80,355 33,884 15,706 5,236 635,460 371,208
1991 101,189 35,898 16,251 4,887 674,861 393,968
1992 119,843 48,003 23,997 6,563 751,731 433,493
1993 123,423 63,232 28,873 9,926 796,762 460,910
1994 143,337 63,158 40,034 17,537 899,600 518,880
1995 135,711 69,556 45,259 15,933 900,287 513,519
1996 152,420 72,980 53,770 11,002 906,366 513,933
1997 161,083 70,712 64,720 17,154 942,382 526,818
1998 172,011 75,688 76,842 11,486 981,764 542,432
1999 168,751 82,192 87,068 10,447 1,014,243 554,767
2000 174,881 94,804 96,426 13,505 1,099,306 601,563
2001 193,034 93,064 110,512 14,923 1,165,367 638,484
Note: Totals include other drugs not specified above. More than one drug may be mentioned for each emergency department episode; therefore, the total number of drug mentions exceeds the total number of drug episodes. A drug mention refers to a substance that was recorded during a drug-related episode (an emergency department visit). Data from 1994 to 2000 were revised in the 2001 DAWN ED report; therefore, reports previous to 2001 may indicate differing numbers.

Source: Drug Abuse Warning Network.

Data for figure 2. Past month drug use by 8th and 10th graders, by drug type: 1991 to 2001
  Percentage reporting use
  Any drug Cocaine Marijuana
Year 8th graders 10th graders 8th graders 10th graders 8th graders 10th graders
1991 5.7% 11.6% 0.5% 0.7% 3.2% 8.7%
1992 6.8 11.0 0.7 0.7 3.7 8.1
1993 8.4 14.0 0.7 0.9 5.1 10.9
1994 10.9 18.5 1.0 1.2 7.8 15.8
1995 12.4 20.2 1.2 1.7 9.1 17.2
1996 14.6 23.2 1.3 1.7 11.3 20.4
1997 12.9 23.0 1.1 2.0 10.2 20.5
1998 12.1 21.5 1.4 2.1 9.7 18.7
1999 12.2 22.1 1.3 1.8 9.7 19.4
2000 11.9 22.5 1.2 1.8 9.1 19.7
2001 11.7 22.7 1.2 1.3 9.2 19.8
Source: Monitoring the Future Study.