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New Drug-use Report — Big Increases

David W. Murray & John P. Walters

Today (September 10, 2015) the Obama Administration released the results of the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the nation’s annual report card on illicit substance use conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Though it is the 2015 NSDUH, the data are for the year 2014, and were released at a press conference this morning at the National Press Club.

The survey is the largest and most comprehensive report on the population 12 and older in the United States. It is subdivided into sections reporting on those 12-17 years of age, those 18-25 years of age, and those 26 and older.

The report analyzes use of illicit substances according to whether it was Lifetime (ever used), Past Year use, or Past Month use (treated as “current use”). The latter category, Past Month, is regarded as the most policy relevant, as it measures those whose use is not only “current,” but likely reflects habitual, regular use of a substance. Regular, habitual users are at greater risk of suffering the consequences of their drug use, including dependency and harms to health.

The report includes several different categories of specific drugs, providing findings on use of “Any Illicit Drug,” as well as specific drugs, such as marijuana use, cocaine and heroin use, or misuse of prescription medications, such as pain killers.

The report comes at a time when the nation is undergoing the most dramatic change in drug policy driven by the Obama Administration’s determination not to uphold the federal Controlled Substances Act, fostering a legal, commercial market in “recreational” marijuana use by several states, as well as a broader retreat from efforts to diminish the supply of illegal drugs at home and abroad.

There are important changes in drug use to be found in this survey when one examines both 12-17 year olds and those between the ages of 18-25. But the most dramatic changes in this year’s results are found in the category of adults, those 26 and older.

Heroin use, for those 26 and older, effectively doubled between 2013 and 2014 (though it is mercifully a relatively small absolute number; the change was from .1 percent to .2 percent). However, we now have the highest figure for heroin use since at least 2002, which is as far back as the tables released by the Administration cover. (All findings noted here are “statistically significant,” including the heroin increase.)

Yet, according to the HHS press release headline, today’s news is:

“Alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drug use by teens declines; level of youth with major depressive episodes remains high."

While that narrow focus presents relatively good (and some bad) news, a far more troubling story lies elsewhere, and must be discovered by careful examination of the data tables.

By comparing drug use over time, it is possible to discover the impact of Obama Administration drug policies and compare them to the previous, Bush Administration, drug use results.

Taking last year of the Bush Administration, 2008, and today’s results for 2014, here are the headlines:

  • Between 2008 and 2014, for the population 26 and older, Past Month use of Any Illicit Drug has risen 41 percent. In the single year 2013-2014, it rose 14 percent.
  • Between 2008 and 2014, for the population 26 and older, Past Month use of Marijuana has risen 57 percent. In the single year 2013-2014, it rose 18 percent.

The Administration has yet to release all the data and other important categories involving teens and young adults remain to be examined in this report. It is now undeniable, however, that the Obama Administration’s drug policies and its facilitation of commercial marijuana distribution are deeply damaging. And the damage is only spreading, accelerating, and deepening.

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