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Drug Abuse Trends Unchanged in U.S.

Some Use Drops, but Prescription Abuse Continues Climb
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 9, 2004 -- Nearly 20 million Americans over the age of 12 regularly used illegal drugs in 2003, showing little change from the year before, according to a government drug survey released Thursday.

The overall figure represents 8.2% of the population and includes 14.6 million current marijuana users. As many as 7,000 persons try marijuana for the first time each day, concludes the annual National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Overall use of most individual drugs remained unchanged since 2002, though there were shifts in Americans' apparent drug preferences, the study shows. Use of LSD and ecstasy, once highly popular among adolescents and young adults, dropped.

Meanwhile, illegal use of prescription drugs continued a recent rise. Approximately 32.1 million Americans over 12 reported having used prescription painkillers or other drugs for nonmedical uses, up from 29.6 million the year before. Abuse of prescription narcotics like Vicodin, Lortab, and OxyContin rose 15% among adults aged 18 to 25, according to the survey.

Federal drug officials have cited prescription drug abuse as one of their top priorities and are encouraging states to pass measures that would make it easier for police to monitor pharmacists' dispensing of controlled substances.

The survey asked about current drug use patterns in 68,000 U.S. homes as well as in homeless shelters and military bases.

Drug Messages Sinking In?

Despite little shift in global drug trends, there were some indications that controversial government-funded antidrug campaigns might be reaching children and parents. Another report released Thursday indicated that children repeatedly exposed to anti-marijuana ads produced by the Partnership for a Drug Free America tend to take a dimmer view of pot use than those who don't see the ads.

The federal government is spending $150 million on the ads in 2004. Congress cut the campaign's budget last year in part because of indications that it was having little positive impact on kids' attitudes about drug use.

But officials Thursday pointed to one positive figure in the survey showing that marijuana use among 12- and 13-year-olds dropped from 1.4% to 1.0% last year.

"It's confirmation of the fact that message matters and parents matter," says Jennifer DeValance, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Strategy.

"The 30% decline in current marijuana use among 12- and 13-year-olds is very good news for America's teens and their parents," says Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

Alcohol use among American children and adults also held steady, with about half of all Americans saying they drink regularly. Still, nearly one-third of those under 21 have taken a drink in the last month.

The survey also shows that drug treatment is not reaching most Americans who need it. More than 20 million Americans qualified for alcohol or drug treatment but never got it. Users cited a desire to keep using and cost and insurance barriers as their top reasons for not getting care.

Meanwhile, officials warn that while most Americans with drug and alcohol problems go untreated, most also bear their problem while holding down a regular job, prompting warnings from drug treatment officials.

"Employers who think alcohol and drug abuse will never be a problem in their workplace need to consider that more than three quarters of adults who have serious drug or alcohol problems are employed," says Charles Curie, head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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