NSDUH Data Released

NSDUH Data on Heroin Use

NSDUH Data on Heroin Use

Each fall, the National Survey on Drug Use in Households releases data from their yearly survey, and data from 2013 is now being released. It’s a gradual process, with more information released as data is analyzed and compared to years past.

The NSDUH report compiles data collected about drug and alcohol use in the nation and in individual states. 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. Data can be compared to past years to look at drug use trends, among other information.

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.

Data from 2013 shows that around 9.4% of U.S. citizens use illicit drugs at least monthly. This includes marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and misused prescription medication. This rate of use hasn’t changed much over the past two years, but it’s a little higher than it was ten years ago.

Of the people who used illicit drugs at least monthly, two thirds used marijuana as their only illicit drug. Marijuana, not surprisingly, is still the most frequently used illicit drugs in the nation. This percentage of people using marijuana has been slowly but steadily increasing over the past ten years. Interestingly, the number of people surveyed who said they were daily or near-daily users of marijuana increased from 5.1 million in 2007 to 8.1 million in 2013.

I do not see this as a good thing, but my blog is dedicated to opioid addiction and its treatment, so I’ll let you make up your own minds about marijuana.

I was happy to see that non-medical use of all prescription medication continued to drop, though slowly, down to 2.5% of the population. Non-medical use of prescription opioids specifically has also shown a slight drop from 2009 to 2013. I hope this means people (and their doctors) are beginning to understand the dangers of illicit opioid use. Tranquilizer use also has shown a slow decline over the past three years, a trend I hope will continue.

Of the group of people who said they were non-medical users of opioids, over half still said they obtained their drug from friends or family, for free. Around 11% bought their drug from a friend or family member, and 21% got the drug from one doctor. Only 4.3% said they got their prescription opioid pills from a drug dealer or a stranger, and only .1% bought them off the internet.

This data tells us – again this year – that the main suppliers of illicit opioids aren’t drug dealers on the corner or dealers over the internet. Main suppliers are friends and family members of the user.

Why is this still a thing people do?? This has got to stop. Sharing medication, controlled substance or not, is dangerous – not to mention illegal. Sharing medication causes harm. You aren’t helping anyone by sharing.

The youngest age group surveyed, aged 12 to 17, showed a drop in the non-medical use of prescription opioids over the last decade, from 3.2% in 2003 to 1.7% in this 2013 survey. That’s reason to hope that youngsters now either have less opioids available to them or that they know how damaging opioid addiction can be. I hope this drop forecasts an overall drop in the number of people addicted to opioids in the coming years.

Now for the bad news: NSDUH shows that heroin use continues to rise, from around 373,000 people in 2007 to 681,000 people in 2013. That’s not quite a doubling over the past six years, but pretty close. That strongly correlates with what I see at my work; people addicted to opioid pain pills tell me it’s harder to find opioids, and also more expensive. Mexican drug cartels have seen this, and moved in to supply heroin as an alternative to opioid pain pills.

It’s an unintended and unfortunate consequence of efforts to limit illicit prescription opioid use.

This 2013 survey showed that there were an estimated 2.8 million new users of illicit drugs in people over age 12. Over 70% of these new illicit drug users started with marijuana. Only about 13% of new users started with non-medical use of opioid pain pills, and this is a lower percentage than in past NSDUH surveys.

This NSDUH data will be released in other reports as more analysis is done on this information.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John Mark Blowen APRN on October 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I wonder what percentage of new ( and old !) illicit drug users actually started with tobacco…


  2. Posted by beth feinsilver cohen on October 18, 2014 at 4:07 am

    Excellent question , being that over 420,000 people die of tobacco related disease every year . Dr. Burson ,good job , thanks for getting this information out.


  3. Posted by Benjamin Kehler on November 26, 2015 at 5:16 am

    I really need help as do many others attending clinic in watsontown pa. The major stressors in my life have come from the clinic. Its a distance to travel but I’ve earned 6 take homes per wk clinic max and compliance is perfect but every 6-12 Mos they decide to create an issue with my take homes and suspend them. I realize it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. This time about testing positive for oxazepam 4wks after an er visit where it was administered and 15 pills prescribed which I only took 1 per day. The clinic was informed and everything remained fine until a week after the urinalysis follow up which detected oxazepam still present and they know my liver function is severely impaired from chirrosis and HepC. I’m trying so to succeed and this is nothing but malicious hurtful insulting mockery and big fun for them. They don’t care if it drives me to deadly relapse please please advise.


    • Oxazepam is a metabolic product from diazepam (Valium), as well as being a benzo in its own right (Serax is one brand name of oxazepam). Valium and its metabolic products can be detected for weeks after ingestion. I’d ask to talk with your doctor. If you took one per day, oxazepam could be detected for up to 4 weeks after your last pill. With liver impairment, it could be longer.
      I think you will get a better response from the doctor and staff if you remain respectful and state facts surrounding your positive test. It’s also important to remember this is probably a temporary reduction in take homes. The calmer and less spew-y you are about the issue, the sooner you are likely to get your levels back. If you relapse, the staff will take that as evidence you weren’t stable enough for levels anyway, so don’t relapse. you can get through this!


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