Saturday, September 6, 2003

Around 22 million Americans were addicted to alcohol or drugs last year, according to a federal survey designed to capture more accurate data about substance abuse.

More than 9 percent of the population aged 12 and older has a serious substance-abuse problem, Charles G. Curie, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), said at a press conference yesterday.

The most common addiction — with 14.9 million people — was alcohol. Another 3.9 million people were addicted to illegal drugs and the remainder were addicted to both drugs and alcohol, SAMHSA said in its new National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The survey collected data from 68,126 persons in their homes and some who live in homeless shelters. The new findings are more accurate than the old “household survey” on drugs owing to better collection techniques, quality control and incentive payments to respondents, Mr. Curie said.

In most categories, he said, the new survey sets a baseline and cannot be compared to data from previous surveys. However, in two areas — first-time use and lifetime use — trends can be identified.

For instance, around 2.6 million people tried marijuana for the first time in 2001, which is comparable to the number of new users each year since 1996. First-time cocaine users numbered 1.5 million in 2001, which is about the same since 1999.

As of 2002, around 21 percent of teens and 54 percent of young people aged 18 to 25 said they had used marijuana at least once. This is also about the same as 2000 and 2001 data.

Marijuana remains the most commonly used illegal drug, with 14.6 million users, the survey found. There were also 2 million people who used cocaine and 1.2 million who used hallucinogens, including the club drug Ecstasy.

Of those people with a certifiable drug or alcohol addiction, around 3.5 million received treatment between 2001 and 2002.

However, many addicts didn’t receive treatment, either because they didn’t believe they needed treatment or because treatment was unavailable. Neither of these scenarios is acceptable, federal officials said.

Americans need a better understanding of the addictive nature of drugs and alcohol, and family and friends shouldn’t always presume their loved ones are “all right,” said John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Getting people into treatment can save lives, he said.

He and other officials urged Congress to allocate $600 million to the administration’s “Access to Recovery Initiative,” which would open treatment slots to 300,000 people.

“There is no other medical condition for which we would tolerate such huge numbers unable to obtain the treatment they need,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said.

Earlier this week, another survey of teens showed that drug use has persisted at a rate of around 24 percent for the last five years.

“The question is how much teen-age drug use is acceptable to the nation,” said Thomas J. Gleaton, author of the Pride Survey, which collected data on 14,182 students in grades 6 to 12. “If one in four teens using drugs is acceptable, we have done well in controlling drugs over the past decade,” he said. If not, “we need stronger action to truly dent teen problems.”

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