Illegal Drug use on the Rise
(AP) About 15.9 million people used drugs illegally in the United States last year, representing 7 percent of the population aged 12 or older, according to a government survey that found increases in the use of marijuana, cocaine and pain relievers.
The number of people using marijuana for the first time remained about the same, but health officials noted that the number of people who perceived smoking marijuana once or twice a week as risky dropped to 53 percent.
"As the perception that marijuana is dangerous goes down, its use goes up," observed Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, which conducted the survey.
The number of people who use marijuana for the first time has been about 2.5 million per year since 1996. That figure isn't yet available for last year.
The survey also found an increase in the number of people who would benefit from drug treatment.
The number of people needing drug treatment increased to 6.1 million, from 4.7 million in 2000, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse estimated. About 5 million of those drug abusers didn't get the treatment they needed last year, the survey found, and most didn't recognize that they had a problem.
"Our current treatment system is not able to help all those in need of drug treatment," Thompson said.
Among young people, the survey found that 10.8 percent of those ages 12 to 17 were current drug users, up from 9.7 percent in 2000. Drug use among adults ages 18 to 25 increased to 18.8 percent, from 15.9 percent in 2000.
Drug use among older adults remained about the same, at 4.5 percent.
For the first time, the annual survey of almost 69,000 people also asked about mental health problems. It estimated that 14.8 million adults, or about 7.3 percent, have a serious mental illness. Less than half of them received mental health treatment within the 12 months before they were surveyed. Smaller surveys found similar numbers, officials said.
By Connie Cass
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