While fewer people are using drugs such as marijuana, Ecstasy, and LSD, a
greater number are abusing painkillers, according to data released in
September by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
In 2003 an estimated 19.5 million Americans, or 8.2 percent of those aged
12 or older, were current drug users, defined as having used an illicit drug
in the month prior to being interviewed, according to findings from the 2003
National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
Marijuana (including hashish) was the most commonly used illicit drug, with
14.6 million past-month users.
About half of current illicit drug users used only marijuana, while 20.6
percent used marijuana and another drug, and 24.8 percent used a drug other
than marijuana in the past month (see chart).
Among current drug users, the most commonly used illicit drug after
marijuana was cocaine (2.3 million users). About 1 million Americans used
hallucinogens, 570,000 used inhalants, and 119,000 used heroin.
An estimated 6.3 million people aged 12 or older, or 2.7 percent of the
population, used psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically, including
tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives.
Each year SAMHSA sponsors the NSDUH, which is conducted by staff at RTI
International in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
The survey, formerly known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse,
collects information on the prevalence of substance use in the population,
perceptions of risk and availability related to substance use, patterns of
use, substance abuse treatment, and mental
To obtain the latest findings, interviewers conducted home visits with
67,784 Americans from January through December 2003. The results were
extrapolated to U.S. population estimates.
Declines were noted in certain types of drug use between 2002 and 2003
among youth and adults.
For instance, the number of youth aged 12 to 17 who were projected to use
marijuana on a daily basis dropped from 358,000 in 2002 to 282,000 in
The number of Americans aged 12 or older who reported using a hallucinogen
in the year prior to the survey dropped from a projected 4.7 million in 2002
to 3.9 million in 2003.
Ecstasy use also dropped for "past year" users—the number
of Americans aged 12 or older who reported using Ecstasy during the year prior
to the survey decreased from a projected 3.2 million in 2002 to 2.1 million in
2003, a drop of about 34 percent.
LSD use was cut in half for past-year users, from 1 million in 2002 to
558,000 in 2003.
Researchers found that the number of Americans aged 12 or older who
reported having ever taken a prescription pain medication for recreational use
rose from 29.6 million in 2002 to 31.2 million in 2003.
Prescription pain medications for which there were statistically
significant increases in lifetime use from 2002 to 2003 included the following
(all numbers are projected estimates):
Vicodin, Lortab, or Lorcet (from 13.1 million to 15.7 million); Percocet,
Percodan, or Tylox (from 9.7 million to 10.8 million); Hydrocodone (from 4.5
million to 5.7 million); OxyContin (from 1.9 million to 2.8 million);
methadone (from 900,000 to 1.2 million); and Tramadol (from 52,000 to
About half of those surveyed reported drinking alcohol, which translates to
about 120 million people. "Current use" was defined as having at
least one drink in the previous 30 days; data also identified binge and heavy
use of alcohol.
Nearly 23 percent of Americans aged 12 or older, or 54 million people,
participated in binge drinking, which was defined as having five or more
drinks on the same occasion at least once in the preceding 30 days.
Approximately 16 million people participated in heavy drinking, defined as
having five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least five different
days in the preceding 30 days. Each of the alcohol-related findings was
similar to 2002 rates.
Almost a third of Americans aged 12 or older (70.8 million people) in 2002
and 2003 were current smokers. Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest
More information about the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and
Health is posted online at<www.oas.samhsa.gov/nhsda.htm#NHSDAinfo>.▪