SAMHSA Press Releases

Date: September 8, 2005

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Youth Drug Use Continues to Decline



Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced a 9 percent decline in illicit drug use among American youth between the ages of 12 and 17 from 2002 to 2004. Marijuana use also declined by 7 percent among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 during this same period. Marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug, with a rate of 6.1 percent (14.6 million current users) for the U.S. population 12 and older. The findings are from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) released today at the annual National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month press conference.

The survey findings, released by HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), show that overall 19.1 million Americans, or 7.9 percent of the population ages 12 and older were current illicit drug users meaning they used an illicit drug in the past month. This rate was similar to the rates seen in 2002 and 2003, around 8 percent of the population ages 12 and older.

Particularly striking was a decline in current use, defined as used in the past month, of marijuana among boys ages 12-17, from 9.1 percent in 2002 down to 8.1 percent in 2004. But marijuana use by girls in that age group did not decline and remained at about 7 percent. Similarly, for the 18-25 year old category, the cohort with the highest illicit drug use rates, there were declines in current marijuana use from 17.3 percent in 2002 to 16.1 percent in 2004; and use of hallucinogens from 1.9 percent in 2002 to 1.5 percent in 2004.

“Prevention and treatment are key in the federal strategy. We in the federal government will work with our state and local partners, and we will redouble our efforts to deal with drug use in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,’’ Secretary Leavitt said. “Clearly the data show by working together as a nation, we can achieve success in preventing drug abuse.”

“This is very encouraging news,” said John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “Our balanced drug control strategy is paying off – especially in the most important category: young people. We need to follow through in certain areas: rising prescription drug abuse and continued flat rates of adult methamphetamine use that we need to push down. But, today’s survey confirms the welcome trend on teen drug use. We know that reductions in youth drug use now pay large dividends in reducing the future human and economic costs of drug use to our nation.”

An area of concern is the increasing non-medical use of prescription medications among young adults. The 2004 survey shows about 6 percent of young adults used medications non medically in the past month, and 29 percent had used in their lifetime. From 2002 to 2004 there was an increase in lifetime prevalence of non-medical use of narcotic pain relievers in the 18-25 age group, from 22 percent to 24 percent. Hydrocodone and oxycodone products showed increases in lifetime use among young adults ages 18 to 25.

“The news today is an indication that our partnerships and the work of prevention professionals, schools, parents, teachers, law enforcement, religious leaders, and local community anti-drug coalitions are paying off,” SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie said. “Yet our work is far from over. We must continue our efforts to support people in their struggle with substance abuse and mental illness to help ensure they have the opportunity for recovery.”


Among persons ages 12 or older who used illicit drugs, 56.8 percent used only marijuana, 19.7 percent used marijuana and some other drug and 23.6 percent used only a drug other than marijuana. An estimated 8.2 million persons (3.4 percent of the population ages 12 and older) were current users of illicit drugs other than marijuana in 2004.

Prescription Drugs

In 2004, most of the people using drugs other than marijuana used psychotherapeutic drugs non medically (6.0 million, 2.5 percent of the population). There were an estimated 4.4 million current users of narcotic pain relievers, 1.6 million users of tranquilizers, 1.2 million used stimulants and 0.3 million used sedatives. These estimates are all similar to the estimates for 2003.

The drug category with the largest number of recent initiates in 2004 was non medical use of pain relievers (2.4 million new users), followed by marijuana (2.1 million new users), non medical use of tranquilizers (1.2 million new users) and cocaine (1.0 million new users).


Use of methamphetamine remained unchanged from 2002 to 2004 at approximately 5 percent lifetime use and 0.6 percent past year use, and 0.2 percent for current use. In 2004, 583,000 persons were current users of methamphetamine and 1.4 million persons ages 12 and older used methamphetamine in the past year. The rates of use declined among young people ages 12 to 17.

In 2004 there were an estimated 2.0 million current cocaine users, 0.8 percent of the population ages 12 and older. Of these, 467,000 used crack in the past month (0.2 percent). These estimates are similar to those in 2002 and 2003. Among 12 to 17 year olds, past year use of cocaine fell 8 percent between 2002 and 2004


Heroin was used by 0.1 percent of the population ages 12 and older in the past month in 2004. There were 166,000 current heroin users. This is similar to 2002 and 2003. Lifetime heroin use fell 16 percent (from 3.7 million individuals to 3.1 million) between 2003 and 2004.


Hallucinogens were used by 929,000 persons in the past month. The number of current users of Ecstasy ages 12 and older remained the same in 2004 as 2003 after dropping significantly between 2002 and 2003. There were 450,000 current users of Ecstasy in 2004. The rate of current use of other hallucinogens also did not change significantly. The number of past year users of LSD declined 41 percent between 2002 and 2004, while past year use of Ecstasy dropped 40 percent over the same time period. Although an estimated 23.4 million persons had tried LSD in their lifetimes, only 141,000 were current users in 2004.


More than one fifth (22.8 percent) of persons ages 12 or older (55 million people) participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to being surveyed in 2004. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past 30 days. Heavy drinking was reported by 6.9 percent of the population ages 12 and older (16.7 million people). Heavy drinking is defined as five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least five different days in the past 30 days. These figures are similar to estimates in 2002 and 2003.

In 2004, about 10.8 million underage persons ages 12-20 (28.7 percent) reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Nearly 7.4 million were binge drinkers (19.6 percent) and 2.4 million were heavy drinkers (6.3 million). These figures were similar to the 2002 and 2003 estimates.

Among young adults ages 18-25, 41.2 percent engaged in binge drinking and 15.1 percent in heavy alcohol use. The rate of binge and heavy drinking in 2004 peaked at age 21. Among persons ages 65 and older the rates of binge and heavy drinking were lower, 6.9 percent for binge alcohol use and 1.8 percent for heavy drinking.


Rates of current use of a tobacco product declined from 30.4 percent to 29.2 percent between 2002 and 2004. Past month use of cigarettes decreased from 26.0 to 24.9 percent, while past month smokeless tobacco use decreased from 3.3 to 3.0 percent between 2002 and 2004. Young adults ages 18-25 had the highest rate of current use of a tobacco product (44.6 percent). Among youth ages 12 to 17, an estimated 3.6 million (14.4 percent) used a tobacco product in the past month in 2004. About three million used cigarettes. The rate of past month cigarette use in this age group declined from 13.0 percent in 2002 to 11.9 percent in 2004.

Prevention Measures

In 2004, 60.3 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 reported that they had talked at least once in the past year with at least one of their parents about the dangers of drug, tobacco, or alcohol use. This rate represents an increase from the 2003 rate of 58.9 percent and the 2002 rate of 58.1 percent. Among youths who reported having had such conversations with their parents, rates of current alcohol and cigarette use and past year and lifetime use of alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs were lower than among youths who did not report such conversations.

In 2004, drug, alcohol, and cigarette use was uniformly lower among youths who reported that their parents always or sometimes engaged in monitoring behaviors such as checking and helping with homework or limiting time spent out on school nights, than among youths whose parents "seldom" or "never" engaged in such behaviors. For instance, for parental assistance with homework, rates of past month marijuana use were 6.2 percent for youths whose parents always or sometimes helped compared with 14.7 percent among youths indicating their parents seldom or never helped.

Substance Use Treatment

In 2004, the estimated number of persons ages 12 or older needing treatment for an alcohol or illicit drug use problem was 23.5 million (9.8 percent of the total population). An estimated 2.3 million of these people (1.0 percent of the total population and 9.9 percent of the people who needed treatment) received treatment at a specialty facility. Thus, there were 21.1 million persons (8.8 percent of the total population) who needed treatment but did not receive treatment at a specialty substance abuse facility in 2004.
The estimated number of persons needing but not receiving treatment for a substance use problem was slightly higher in 2004 (21.1 million) than in 2003 (20.3 million), but this difference was not statistically significant. The estimate of the number receiving specialty treatment in 2004 (2.3 million) was significantly higher than the estimate in 2003 (1.9 million), but it was essentially the same as the estimate in 2002 (2.3 million). The overall number needing treatment was higher in 2004 (23.5 million) than in 2003 (22.2 million).
Of the 21.1 million people who needed but did not receive treatment in 2004, an estimated 1.2 million (5.8 percent) reported that they felt they needed treatment for their alcohol or drug use problem. Of the 1.2 million persons who felt they needed treatment, 441,000 (35.8 percent) reported that they made an effort but were unable to get treatment, and 792,000 (64.2 percent) reported making no effort to get treatment.
Co-occurring Substance Use and Mental Illness

In 2004, adults who used illicit drugs in the past year were more than twice as likely to have serious psychological distress than those who did not use an illicit drug (20.6 percent vs 8.3 percent). This pattern has remained stable since 2002 and was reflected in most demographic subgroups.

Among adults with serious psychological distress, 27.6 percent used an illicit drug in the past year compared with 11.8 percent among those without serious psychological distress. Similarly, the rate of past month cigarette use was 40.8 percent among adults with serious psychological distress and 24.5 percent among adults without serious psychological distress.

In 2004 almost half (47.5) percent of adults with both serious psychological distress and a substance use disorder received no treatment for either problem. Only 6.0 percent (274,000) adults received both treatment for mental health problems and specialty substance use treatment provided in-patient at hospitals, or at rehabilitation facilities or mental health centers. Another 41.4 percent received only treatment for mental health problems, and 5.0 percent received only specialty substance use treatment.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is an annual survey of close to 70,000 people. The survey collects information from residents of households, residents of non-institutionalized group quarters and civilians living on military bases.

Recovery Month is observed in September to recognize the accomplishments of people in recovery, the contributions of treatment providers, and advances in substance abuse treatment. This year is the 16th annual observance. The theme “Join the Voices for Recovery – Healing Lives, Families and Communities” emphasizes that addiction to alcohol and drugs is a chronic, but treatable, public health problem that affects everyone in the community.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is available on the web at Electronic versions of Recovery Month materials are available at

SAMHSA, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the lead federal agency for improving the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment and mental health services in the United States.



SAMHSA, is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is responsible for improving the accountability, capacity and effectiveness of the nation’s substance abuse prevention, addictions, treatment, and mental health services delivery system.



SAMHSA is An Agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service