The State of Illicit Drugs in the United States

Drug Abuse Throughout the USA

Illicit drug use in the United States continues to be a problem and for those who are not receiving the right kind of treatment and attention, drug use leads to an overwhelming cycle of abuse that cripples the life of the user and those closest to them.

In the United States, drug abuse is hitting epidemic levels. Here are just some of the statistics for some of the most abused substances in the U.S.

Graph of Drugs Abused Throughout The United States from 2013
2013 Study by the University of Michigan


Marijuana use has increased every year since 2007. From 1999 to 2006, we saw a significant decrease in marijuana usage from high school-aged kids and young adults. The numbers stabilized and remained mostly flat between 2006 and 2007, and then from 2007 to now, we’ve seen incremental growth each year.

In 2013, marijuana was reported to have 19.8-million current users aged 12 and older. This is approximately 7.5-percent of all United States citizens above the age of 12, a number that is up from the 14.5-million regular users in 2007. With more states legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, these numbers are sure to increase.


Cocaine use is down. In 2013, 1.5-million Americans aged 12 and older had reported using cocaine in the last 30 days. The number is significantly lower than in 2002 through 2007, which reported at 2 to 2.4-million. However, Cocaine abuse is still very much a serious problem.


Methamphetamine is another drug that has become a problem in terms of the number of users. As easier methods for “cooking” the drug come along, prices go down as availability goes up. This results in more of the drug hitting the open market at dirt cheap prices, which spurs use, especially amongst teens and young adults.

Meth use is reported at 596,000 current users in 2013, which might sound like a small number, but the rate of growth is significant seeing that 2010 had only 353,000 reported users.


This category includes everything from peyote and magic mushrooms to the so-called club drugs, such as ecstasy and LSD. Current use is reported at about 1.3-million, which makes it the most stable drug on the list. There is no significant movement up or down in the past half-decade or more.

Prescription Drugs

The next two drugs on the list are where the real problem lies. While the federal government might tout the stabilization or slight decrease of certain drugs as big wins in the war on drugs, the reality is that their users just moved on to something else. The something else, in this case, is heroin and prescription painkillers.

Prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in the United States, but perhaps even more alarming is the cause for the sudden downturn in active users. While teens and young adults had easy access to the drugs hiding in plain sight right in the medicine cabinet at home, the epidemic of accidental overdose and abuse-related issues shed a light on the problem which led teens away from prescription drugs, and into a cheap, and comparable high… heroin.

Prescription drug abuse amongst 12th graders peaked in 2004 with a reported 9.4-percent of seniors reporting non-medical use of prescription narcotics. Since that time, we have seen the number drop to 7.1-percent in 2013, and 6.1-percent in 2014.


As bad as prescription drugs were, heroin might just be worse. While the two are both opioids, the effects of over-the-counter prescriptions are much more predictable whereas heroin has reports of toxic doses that have killed upon initial ingestion, even in relatively small doses.

The heroin epidemic has taught us two things. One, the users, while young, are often past high school age, and in their early 20s. Two, the prescription drug users of yesterday have become heroin users today. Of course, that’s not to say everyone that tried prescription drugs moved on to heroin, but it’s a logical conclusion we can form based on movement in both categories.

While drug use tends to be leveling off, or even decreasing in some instances, the reality is that the youth of today are just moving on to different drugs. Some of these we don’t even understand well enough to classify or track, such as the prevalence of bath salts, synthetic marijuana, and other designer drugs that are here today and gone tomorrow.

Drug abuse is as much a problem (or bigger) that it has ever been. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and would like more information on how Prescott House can help the loved one in your life obtain sobriety, contact us today.

Statistics from: National Institute on Drug Abuse

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