We learned that in 2017, 192 people died each day on average from drug overdoses in the US including 130 from opioid overdoses. This was from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released the finalized data for 2017 drug overdose deaths on November 28, 2018.
It struck us recently to ask, how many people are currently starting to use or misuse substances for the first time? This, despite all the press coverage of the opioid epidemic, the concerns raised on teen vaping and e-cigarette use, and the general increased education and awareness efforts on the risks of developing addiction from prior substance misuse.
In particular, we wanted to know how many young people are initiating substance use. The adolescent and young adult brain is still developing and that is a vulnerable period. Substance use while the brain is developing is a big red flag, increasing the risk of future addiction.
The results published by SAMHSA in September, 2018 from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health give us these numbers. Taken in the context of the population of the US, perhaps we might breathe a sign of relief. It’s a small fraction of the overall population.
The absolute numbers are startling.
Overall, 17.7 Million people started using or misusing (in the case of prescription drugs) a substance in 2017.
4.9 Million people started misusing a prescription drug in 2017.
Now take a look at prescription pain relievers. In 2017, 2 MILLION people were new initiates in misusing prescribed pain relievers the bulk of those we know are opioid pain medications. That works out to on average, on a given day having 5,500 people starting to misuse these drugs for the first time!
316,000 were adolescents aged 12 to 17. Which means every day, 866 adolescents started to misuse prescription pain meds in 2017. Which is mind boggling given 130 people die each day on average from opioids. How many of these 866 adolescents are going to end up getting addicted to Rx painkillers and possibly fatally overdosing one day?
And, it doesn’t stop there. Take marijuana. The number of adolescents who started to use cannabis in 2017 was 1.2 million! That works out to 3,300 new initiates each day.
1,089 adolescents started using smokeless tobacco and 1,656 in this 12 to 17 age group started to smoke cigarettes each day in 2017.
6,388 started to drink alcohol each day and 942 tried hallucinogens like LSD and Ecstasy each day.
Young adults categorized as ages 18 to 25 also started using or misusing substances in big numbers each day. See the table below for a summary. While some of these numbers have decreased compared to previous years such as new heroin users, the absolute counts are still very high.
Is there any way to prevent new such large numbers from initiating substance use and misuse?
Why are people misusing prescription pain relievers? When asked, two in three people said the main reason that they misused a prescription opioid was to try and relieve their physical pain. This is the key reason for medical marijuana use. Though still a Schedule I substance at the federal level with no authorized medical use, cannabis has been approved by over 30 states and now increasingly as a substitute for opioids. Which makes the need for proper clinical trials to guide these decisions more critical than ever. And, on that front, it is hoped that the federal government will move quickly. There’s no reason why clinical trials can’t be accelerated while marijuana remains a Schedule I substance.
One would also hope that the FDA will make the right decision on vaping or smokeless tobacco to go back and reverse its decision from last fall to not ban flavors. Rather than now talking about treating young people with drugs to overcome nicotine addiction, simply preventing it would be sensible. Even if the steps taken to do so means that adults would not get flavored varieties to help them move from smoking to e-cigarettes.
IANA Health seeks to be that easy, one-stop platform to access opioid and other substance abuse and addiction information, clinicians, and support groups. https://ianahealth.com.