Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Quick Quiz: What demographic group is responsible for the largest increase in drug use and related violence in the U.S.?

There’s an interesting Op-Ed in today’s New York Times about the "explosion" of drug use in this country that answers that very question. The piece, written by Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, takes issue with the annual Monitoring the Future survey on drug use that indicates a big drop in teenage drug use. The Monitoring the Future survey is based on self-reported behaviors related to drug use by teenagers. I've always wondered how accurate these studies, which rely on the honesty of those filling out the questionnaires, actually are. Especially in this case where you have teenagers completing questionnaires about illegal activities.

Mr. Males says a better system of tracking drug abuse is needed. He suggests using “largely ignored data" from drug related deaths, hospital emergency rooms, and crime statistics. In the article he points to some data from these categories that paint a very different picture than the one in the Monitoring the Future survey. I've highlighted some of these findings below, but first . . .

. . . which group is responsible for the largest increase in drug use and related crime in the U.S.? Teenagers? Inner-city minority groups? Wrong! White, middle aged Americans are the fastest growing population of drug users in the U.S. Not exactly the “stereotypical” drug user that most of us have in our heads.

Here’s a link to the article (registration required) and the promised highlights, if you can call them that:

1. While the Monitoring the Future study shows a drop in teenage drug use over the past decade, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that teenage deaths from illicit drug use has tripled over the same period.

2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of Americans dying from illegal drug abuse has increased by 400 percent over the past two decades, reaching a record 28,000 in 2004.

3. F.B.I. data shows that drug arrests reached an all-time high of 1.8 million in 2005.

4. The number of hospital emergency cases caused by illicit drug use climbed to 940,000 in 2004, according to data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

5. Deaths from illicit-drug overdoses, among those in their 40s and 50s, has risen by 800 percent since 1980, including 300 percent in the last decade.

6. According to FBI statistics, arrests for drug offenses among those over 40 rose to 360,000 last year, up from 22,000 in 1980.

If you think this doesn't affect you - think again.

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