Fewer New Heroin Users in 2017 but Big Jump in Pot

Fewer New Heroin Users in 2017 but Big Jump in Pot

The number of new heroin users across the nation in 2017 dropped to less than half those in 2016, says SAMHSA's 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

There were 81,000 new heroin users in 2017, says the report, compared to 170,000 new users in 2016.

However, there was little decline among 18- to 25-year-old heroin users. And that age group also showed a jump in marijuana and methamphetamine use.

The age 18-to-25 demographic, called the "transitional" age by SAMHSA, is particularly vulnerable. This group has a higher percentage of substance use and abuse than all other age groups for all substances right across the boards - from alcohol and tobacco to marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, hallucinogens like LSD, and the frequently changing and dangerous "designer drugs."

This group also showed higher rates of serious mental problems, such as major depressive episodes and suicidal thoughts and behavior.

One somewhat bright spot: Just 7 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds were abusing prescription opioids last year, compared to 8.5 percent a year earlier.

Marijuana use continues to rise

Marijuana use was highest ever among kids aged 12 to 17, and also up in the 18-to-25 group.

"In 2017, about 3.0 million people aged 12 or older used marijuana for the first time," the NSDUH reports. "This number averages to about 8,300 new marijuana users each day."
In 2017, the study found, an estimated 1.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 used marijuana for the first time in the past year. This translates to roughly 3,300 new adolescents a day being introduced to marijuana.
"In 2017, 1.3 million young adults aged 18 to 25 initiated marijuana use in the past year," the report says, "an average of about 3,600 recent initiates per day."

Drug use during pregnancy, including marijuana, opioids, and cocaine, also increased between 2015 and 2017. Roughly 7 percent of women reported using marijuana while pregnant, and three percent said they smoke it every day.

SAMHSA assistant secretary Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz said that marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to fetal growth problems, preterm births, stillbirths, hyperactivity and impaired cognition in newborns.

Increased marijuana use worrisome

The increase in cannabis use among this age group is worrisome.

One is reminded of the 2014 study, reported in The Lancet that found:

  • Daily teenage pot-smokers 60 percent less likely than nonusers to finish high school
  • Those who made it to college were 60 percent less likely to finish their schooling

Regular teen pot smokers were also:

  • Eight times more likely to use illegal drugs, and
  • Seven times more likely to attempt suicide at some time in their lives.

Keep in mind that the 2014 study of adolescent cannabis use was done before the rash of state marijuana legalizations, and increasing tacit use and approval of pot in the entertainment industry that is undoubtedly contributing to the increase in teen marijuana use today.

Millions trying tranquilizers and stimulants

In 2017, 1.4 million people 12 or older misused prescription tranquilizers for the first time, or roughly 4,000 new users per day.

This includes 223,000 kids aged 12 to 17, and 473,000 young adults aged 18 to 25. Adults aged 26 or older led this group, with 749,000 misusing prescription tranquilizers for the first time.

Daily, this is about 600 adolescents, 1,300 young adults, and 2,100 adults aged 26 or older trying prescription tranquilizers for the first time every day.

Approximately 1.2 million people 12 or older misused prescription stimulants for the first time, approximately 217,000 adolescents 12 to 17, 581,000 young adults aged 18 to 25 and 394,000 adults aged 26 or older. In 2017, this translates to about 600 adolescents, 1,600 young adults, and 1,100 adults aged 26 or older misusing stimulants every day.

Far-reaching study

Every year, the NSDUH offers an enormous amount of information of value for professionals working in the field of substance use disorders and mental health.

The annual NSDUH is a comprehensive look at "Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States" - a picture of what's going on across the country.

The report summarizes its findings in these categories:

  • Substance use - alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and inhalants, as well as the misuse of opioids, prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives
  • Initiation of substance use
  • Perceived risk from substance use
  • Substance use disorders
  • Any mental illness, serious mental illness, and major depressive episode
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and non-fatal attempts for adults ages 18 or older
  • Substance use treatment and mental health service use

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