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Prescription Drug Trends

Prescription drug trends from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that an estimated 21.8 million people in the U.S. over the age of twelve were past thirty days users of illicit drugs, saying they had used a drug in the thirty days before the questionnaire. This number represents eight percent of the people in the U.S. twelve years of age and older. These drugs include cocaine, hallucinogens, marijuana, inhalants, heroin, or prescription-type drugs used for non-medical purposes. In 2009, there were over seven million people over the age of twelve that used who used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the past 30 days. In 2008, the numbers were lower at about six million users.

Among young people between the age of twelve and seventeen, the amount of non-medical prescription drug use decreased to just below three percent, down from four percent in 2002. This drug use stayed at the same rate through 2009. Prescription drug trends from 2002 to 2009 show that there was an increase among youths ages between eighteen and twenty-five in the use of non-medical prescription-type drugs up to over six percent, fueled mostly by increases in pain reliever abuse. The use of cocaine declined to well below two percent and methamphetamine use declined to about .2%.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) categorizes prescription drug trends into 4 parts of prescription-type drugs stimulants, pain pills, sedatives, and tranquilizers; these categories include many medicines that are available by prescription only. These categories include as well drugs that were originally prescribed medicine but are at present made and sold illegally, such as meth. Survey takers were asked to state non-medical applications of these drugs. Non-medical use means the use of a drug when one does not have a prescription for the drug. Information about the consumption of over the counter drugs and valid prescription drugs were not used in this survey. Psychotherapeutics is the name of the category that contains the above mentioned drug groups and all the drugs mentioned are combined under this heading.

Ten percent of young people in 2009 from age twelve to seventeen said that they used illicit drugs: of those, one percent abused inhalants, over seven percent abused marijuana, just under one percent used hallucinogens, just over three percent used non-medical psychotherapeutics, and under one half a percent abused cocaine. Among young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen, various types of drugs were used depending upon which age group was studied. For youths twelve to thirteen years of age, under two percent used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, about one and a half percent abused inhalants, and just under one percent abused marijuana. For age group of fourteen to fifteen year olds, the most likely drug to be used was marijuana at just over six percent, and just over three percent of those youths used prescription-type drugs for non-medical purposes; third and last came hallucinogens and inhalants at just under one percent. For ages sixteen and seventeen, the most common used drug was also marijuana at fourteen percent; after that came prescription drugs used for non-medical purposes at just over four percent, inhalants (under one percent), cocaine (under one percent), and hallucinogens (almost two percent).

In 2009, rates for people who currently use illicit drugs were higher for persons between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five at about twenty-one percent than for young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen at about ten percent and people twenty-six and older at about just over six percent. For young people, just over eighteen percent smoked marijuana in the past 30 days, just under two percent abused hallucinogens, six percent abused prescription-type drugs for non-medical purposes, and just over one percent abused cocaine.

Current prescription drug trends show that among adults twenty-six and older, 6.3 percent were recent illicit drug users in 2009. For this age grouping, just over two percent used prescription-type drugs for non-medical purposes and about five percent abused marijuana. Under one percent abused cocaine, heroin abuse 0.2%, hallucinogens 0.3%, and inhalants 0.2%. The only important changes in rates for years 2008-2009 for past 30 day use among people over twenty-six years of age was the use of non-medical stimulants increasing from 0.3% to 0.5% and the abuse of methamphetamine which increased from 0.2% to 0.3%. The rate of present-time use of marijuana in this age group was shown to be higher in 2009 than in 2002.

Prescription Drug Trends: Sources of Prescription Drugs

  • Non-medical users of prescription drugs over the past twelve months were asked how they got their drugs and for 2008 and 2009 it showed that over fifty percent of users of pain pills, sedatives, stimulants, and tranquilizers (people over the age of twelve) obtained their prescription drugs from someone they knew and not a doctor; In a separate question the person they got their drugs from said they got the drugs from 1 doctor.
  • In 2008-2009, for people twelve and older who used pain pills non-medically over the past year, over 50 percent got them from someone they knew without cost. An additional 9% purchased them from that person, and five percent stole them without asking. More than one in six (17.6%) said that they got the drugs from 1 doctor using a prescription. About five percent of users obtained pain pills from a stranger or dealer, and less than half a percent got them off the Internet.
  • In 80.0 percent of cases from the 2008-2009 prescription drug trends when non-medical users (of prescription pain pills) over the age of twelve got the drugs from someone they know without cost, the person said that their contact got the drugs from 1 doctor. Only just under two percent said the contact purchased the drugs from a stranger or drug dealer.
  • In 2008-2009, 40.9 percent of past 12 month users of methamphetamine over the age of twelve said that they obtained the drug from a close acquaintance without charge; less than the forty-nine percent stated in previous years. About three tenths (29.2 percent) bought the methamphetamine they used most recently from a close contact, and 21.2 percent bought it from a drug dealer or stranger.