Survey finds millions new drug abusers
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Health - Reuters
Survey Finds Millions of New U.S. Drug Abusers
Fri Sep 5, 3:26 PM ET Add Health - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A redesigned survey of who uses and abuses drugs in the United States has found millions of "missed" users and addicts, with an estimated 22 million Americans suffering from alcohol or drug abuse.
The study, released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on Friday, finds that 19.5 million Americans used illicit drugs in 2002. This works out to 8.3 percent of the population age 12 or older.
Last year's survey found that 15.9 million Americans used an illegal drug in 2001 -- but SAMHSA stressed that the latest survey used new methods and turned up many hidden drug users.
"The 2002 data are simply not comparable with data from previous surveys," the report reads.
"We know that for a number of years we've undercounted," John Walters, director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, told a news conference.
The new survey of more than 68,000 people was taken using stricter questioning methods and included a $30 incentive payment, which SAMHSA said resulted in more people agreeing to be surveyed while not affecting the truth of their answers.
The payment may have made it more likely that people "on the edge" -- younger people and potential drug users -- would agree to be interviewed in the first place, a spokesman for Walters' office said.
The survey found that marijuana remains the most widely used illegal drug, with an estimated 14.6 million users in the past month.
"In 2002, an estimated 2 million persons were current cocaine users," the report adds. Of these, 567,000 used crack. Hallucinogens such as Ecstasy were used by 1.2 million.
The report found that 54 million people, based on survey projections, would have been binge drinkers in the previous month -- defined as five or more drinks on the same occasion.
Nearly 16 million were heavy drinkers, downing five or more drinks a day for at least five days in the past month.
"The report highlights that 7.7 million people, 3.3 percent of the total population ages 12 and older, needed treatment for a diagnosable drug problem and 18.6 million, 7.9 percent of the population, needed treatment for a serious alcohol problem," the agency said in a statement.
But drug and alcohol abusers are not getting the help they need, the report added.
"Only 1.4 million received specialized substance abuse treatment for an illicit drug problem and 1.5 million received treatment for alcohol problems," it reads.
Part of this is because drug and alcohol addicts often do not recognize that they have a problem, the report said. "Over 94 percent of people with substance use disorders who did not receive treatment did not believe they needed treatment," the report reads.
The report also measures tobacco use and found that 71.5 million Americans used tobacco in 2002 -- about 30 percent of the population. Of these, 26 percent or 61 million smoked cigarettes -- much higher than the current CDC estimate of 46 million.
On Thursday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) reported that 8.6 million Americans have smoking-related illnesses such as bronchitis or emphysema.
The report also for the first time includes information on mental illness linked with substance abuse.
"Among adults with substance dependence or abuse, 20.4 percent had serious mental illness," SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie told the news conference.