Opiate Use

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 10-1-11

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 10-1-11. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/3570

Question of the Week: Is opiate use increasing?

Each year around this time, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration releases its National Survey on Drug Use and Health that reports the prevalence of illicit drug use in the US population age 12 or older.

Trendable from 2002 onward, the data measure “lifetime” and “monthly” use of various illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco. “Lifetime” use means having tried a drug just once. “Monthly” use equates to consuming an illicit drug at least once per month. NSDUH calls “monthly” use “current use.”

What is striking about these data, but under reported in their analysis, is the growth in the use of opiates, specifically heroin and pain relievers, often opiates as well. In the nine years since 2002, among the drugs showing the largest “lifetime” growth in users were pain relievers at +17.4% over 2002 and heroin at +12.5% over 2002.

“Monthly” usage of heroin at +44% and pain relievers +16.5% grew the most quickly over their 2002 respective user populations. There were an estimated 5.1 million users of illicit pain relievers in 2010, over 700,000 more than in 2002.

The increasing use of these illicit drugs is tragically reflected in the headline of a recent Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the U.S.” Citing 2009 data in a 2011 National Vital Statistics Report and naming these drugs as the culprit, the article read,

“Claiming a life every 14 minutes … This is the first time that drugs have accounted for more fatalities than traffic accidents since the government started tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.”

These facts and others like them can be found in three data tables within the Drug Use chapter of Drug War Facts at www.drugwarfacts.org.