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September 4, 2013

How could and should folks view (or "spin") latest results from national survey on drug use and health?

Released today were the findings from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Helpfully, thanks to our modern digital world, everyone can look at the full reported results from HHS here and a collections of "highlights" at this link.  Or one can look at these headlines from some early major media reports:

  • From ABC News here, "Drug Use Drops for America's Youth, Rises in the Over 50 Crowd"
  • From CBS News here, "New US drug survey: Marijuana and heroin increasing"
  • From The Hill here, "Federal survey shows heroin use up significantly"
  • From USA Today here, "More Americans are using marijuana"

As these headlines highlight, there are lots of ways to view the latest survey data.  (Moreover, because the stigma associated with marijuana use has declined with evolving laws and policy perspectives, I cannot help but wonder if the measured increase in reported use of marijuana might, at least to some degree, reflect an increase in the willingness of persons to admit to marijuana use rather than an actual increase in use.)

Usefully, because the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health also explores alcohol and tobacco use, as well as reported rates of "substantance dependence/abuse," there are a number of notable (though less reported) seemingly positive stories emerging from this latest government report concerning drug use and abuse over the last decade.  Specifically (and quoting now directly from the HHS highlights):

  • Between 2002 and 2012, past month use of any tobacco product among persons aged 12 or older decreased from 30.4 to 26.7 percent... [and] the rate of past month tobacco use among 12 to 17 year olds declined from 15.2 percent in 2002 to 8.6 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2002 and 2012, the percentage of youths aged 12 to 17 with substance dependence or abuse declined from 8.9 to 6.1 percent.
  • The number of past year cocaine initiates declined from 1.0 million in 2002 to 639,000 in 2012. The number of crack cocaine initiates declined from 337,000 to 84,000 during this period.
  • The rate of current marijuana use among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 6.7 percent in 2006, remained unchanged at 6.7 percent in 2007 and 2008, then increased to 7.9 percent in 2011. The rate declined to 7.2 percent in 2012.
  • Past month, binge, and heavy drinking rates among underage persons declined between 2002 and 2012.  Past month alcohol use declined from 28.8 to 24.3 percent, binge drinking declined from 19.3 to 15.3 percent, and heavy drinking declined from 6.2 to 4.3 percent.

I am inclined to ultimately view the data emerging from 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health as evidence that, all things considered, Americans are somewhat healthier now than we were a year ago and a lot healthier now than we were a decade ago.  But most of the headlines I see from the media seem to be emphasizing reported increases in the use of certain substantances rather than reported decreases in the use of other substances.

September 4, 2013 at 08:10 PM | Permalink

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| CBS News here, "New US drug survey: Marijuana and heroin increasing" |

:: Yeah, but remember DailyShow viewers, marijuana = good; heroin = bad!

| FortLee.patch.com, "Regular marijuana use in adolescence may permanently impair brain function and cognition and .. psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, according to a study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine" |

:: Huh?

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 5, 2013 10:32:39 AM

Prof. Berman: "Americans are somewhat healthier now than we were a year ago
and a lot healthier now than we were a decade ago."

Americans are thoroughly fatter now than ever before in the recorded history of mankind.

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 5, 2013 10:37:44 AM

Excellent point, Adamakis, though our average life expectancy seems to keep creeping up. And, as your comment properly spotlights, my assertion about health here was in the context of drug use/abuse (including tobacco and alcohol); I did not mean to make claims or assertions about health factors.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 5, 2013 10:49:55 AM

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