It’s That Time of Year! NSDUH is Here!

NSDUH past month illicit drug use 12 and older

Every year, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is performed by a research group out of Raleigh, NC. The NSDUH report is released each fall, compiling data collected about drug and alcohol use in the nation and in individual states, from the previous year. This annual survey of around 70,000 people in the U.S. over age 12 also collects data on mental health in the U.S. This research information is collected from phone calls to individual households and is the primary source of data on the abuse of drug including alcohol in the U.S.

Since this survey is conducted on household members, some scientists say the data underestimates drug use since its methods exclude populations living in institutions such as prisons, hospitals and mental institutions. Such populations are known to have the highest rates of drug use and addiction. But the annual NSDUH report is still one of the best sources of information we have at present. This data can be evaluated for new trends of drug use and abuse, and can help direct funding toward problem areas. Researchers use this data to assess and monitor drug use, as well as the consequences.

This report contains data from 2012, and there were no big surprises.

23.9 million people in the U.S. over age 12 used illicit drugs over the past month. That’s around 9.2% of the population. By no means are all these people addicted, but they certainly are at risk for addiction. It’s not much different than the last NSDUH study. Just as in the past, the primary illicit drug used was marijuana, with 18.9 million people saying they used it during the previous 30 days.


Psychotherapeutics were a distant second, with 6.8 million people in the U.S. over age 12 saying they’ve used these drugs non-medically over the past thirty days. This group of drugs contains opioids, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers. (Don’t ask me why sedatives and tranquilizers have two separate categories. It doesn’t make any sense to me either). In this survey, non-medical use is defined as use of a drug not in accordance with instructions from a physician. These are scary numbers, but again, it’s not significantly different from last year.


Overall nonmedical use of prescription opioids has remained fairly steady over the last ten years, but the above graph shows the steady increase in heroin use. This correlates with what I’ve been seeing in opioid treatment programs. This last week I admitted six people to an opioid treatment program in the mountains, and half were using heroin. They all described the heroin as being called “China white,” rather than the more usual black tar heroin that comes from Mexico and South America. This so-called China white has been seen in the Northeast, so I’ve been surprised to see addicts using it in rural mountain communities.

Read the study for yourself, since your tax dollars paid for it:

2 responses to this post.

  1. Along these same lines, interestingly, the Weekly Fax from the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR Fax) for this past week shows data indicating that national treatment admissions for opiates other than heroin continue to increase and surpass admissions for cocaine and methamphetamine. I think the data you’ve posted, combined with the information from CESAR, (since NEITHER shows a decrease in opioid abuse) makes it more than clear the time to expand access to evidence-based, medication assisted treatments with methadone and buprenorphine is NOW.


  2. Posted by Benjamin K. Phelps on September 27, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Yeah, I don’t know about that whole “China White” thing. The problem with that is that even black tar/brown heroin can APPEAR white when cut with white powder such as quinine. What happens is that it’s white powder with itty-bitty brown specks in it, which you don’t see unless you hold it up directly against a light. That’s how I used to be able to tell in DC if someone had scammed me – hold it to a fluorescent (& probably any other – just never had to try it w/any other) light & look for the specks. Again, they were REALLY tiny, so not visible to the naked eye in regular light. So I sorta doubt the notion that China White is really what they’re getting. Also, there’s a couple of things: Heroin from Asia IS typically more refined & IS white in color. But we hardly EVER see any of that around the eastern seaboard, from what I’ve seen over the years (since 1995, in DC, Baltimore, NY, VA, & NC). Most dope in Raleigh & Wilmington, NC was always a brown fleck variety in stamped bags 10 years ago & a bit more recently, from the stuff I’ve seen in the news. That looks TOTALLY different than the stuff I got in DC in 1995 when addicted to 20 bags a day… That appeared as I described above – white! But it wasn’t China White. Also, back when China White made it’s debut years & years ago, I believe it was in the mid-western states that this happened, early 80’s (though I may be a little off), I’m ALMOST certain it had some so-called designer fentanyl in it, which was why it killed off SO MANY addicts when it made rounds. People were ending up in the emergency rooms who’d been shooting dope for YEARS, if not just dead w/the needle in their arm still. I wanna say it was something like alphamethylfentanyl, but again, I could be a little off on that detail. But I know there was fentanyl of the designer variety that did go around & kill a lot of addicts back then, & I’m almost sure it was the China White disaster when it happened. Either way, white heroin is, like all other forms, best left alone, no doubt. I know – addicts don’t tend to be able to just walk away when in the throes of addiction to it. But it might be a good policy if you’ve never used white heroin & come upon some, to go the other way if you have an alternative source & can’t say no to it altogether. I also know that addicts will see a person OD, & then want to know where they got their dope, b/c it’s so strong (so it must be good, right??) Wrong. MPTP killed a lot of people, & NOT b/c it was better dope. It was supposed to have been MPPP, but the process was SO delicate that clandestine chemists w/o much experience in the lab were botching the process & it was converting during a crucial step over to the other stuff, which caused IRREVERSIBLE brain damage that included Parkinson’s Disease-like symptoms FOREVER & EVER AFTER. I actually was afraid for a long time that I might have used it, b/c I had some dope 2 times that was fitting for the symptoms in a way (except I didn’t have permanent Parkinson’s-like behavior afterwards). But I STILL wonder what kind of damage whatever-it-was did to me! I’ve always had problems since my heroin addiction in 1996 that I NEVER had before it, only about 6 months prior. I started using in 08/1995. By April, 1996, I was suffering from fairly severe depression & REALLY severe anxiety issues. I began having GERD (chronic heartburn) at that time, too… though I don’t know that I believe it caused that, per se. That tends to happen at any age to people. Anyway, this strange stuff I got hold of made me all giddy & silly, whereas heroin never did that. It had an opioid feel to it, but I would black out & do really crazy things from it. I bought a bundle of whatever that was, so I used it more times than once during my first time getting it. I don’t remember the 2nd time how much I got. Anyway, my friends actually had to subdue me (they weren’t users) one of those times, b/c I began acting so out of the ordinary that they became VERY afraid that I’d lost my mind & would require hospitalization. All I remember about it after injecting was SUDDENLY coming to & sitting up on the bed & saying I was going to 7-11, at which point they all came rushing towards me, saying, “No, it’s okay, Keith, it’s okay!!” & they sort of tried to act like they wanted to block me from getting up & as though something was really wrong. I remember asking them why they were standing over me like that, & they told me I had been out of my mind for the last 2 hours, babbling crazy stuff & just all-around acting really far out there. I learned from that that it’s probably better to stick to 1 person you know, if you can, rather than buying dope from any Tom, Dick, & Harry on a street corner. My usual dealer always had the same stuff b/c it was always from the same supplier. I don’t advocate using, obviously. But if I can help someone avoid harm until they figure out how to stop altogether (whether that includes MAT, MMT, or abstinence-based treatment), that’s what I’m going to do!!


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