Study Reveals Significant Change in Addiction Treatment Admissions over Last Decade

Posted on May 20th, 2010
Posted in Research

As evidenced by data gathered from state-licensed substance abuse treatment facilities across the country, five substances represent 96 percent of treatment admissions ages 12 and older. These substances were alcohol (41%), opiates (20%), marijuana (17%), cocaine (11%), and methamphetamine/amphetamines (6%). The survey report also presented significant changes in trends concerning ethnic groups, concurrent abuse of alcohol and drugs, and single substance abuse.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently sponsored the survey report—National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment—based on the findings from SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) from 1998 to 2008. The survey report is aimed at guiding SAMHSA in creating more effective substance abuse treatment programs and health care initiatives that meet the public’s needs. After President Obama recently released his new drug policy for 2011, this information comes at a time when identifying and successfully reaching those in need of help for substance abuse disorders could not be more pertinent.

In 1998, alcohol accounted for 49% of all admissions as a primary substance abuse; this percentage declined in 2005 to 39%, but peaked again by 2008 to 41%. Of primary alcohol admissions, 44% reported a secondary substance abuse. However, for alcohol-only admissions, the study showed a decline from 27% of all admissions in 1998 to 23% in 2008. The majority of alcohol admissions were non-Hispanic white males (75% of alcohol-only admissions were male, 66% of alcohol-only admissions were white, and 60% of primary alcohol abuse admissions with a secondary substance abuse were white). Additionally, alcohol was reported more often as the primary substance of abuse for all ethnic groups expect Puerto Ricans (65% of Native American admissions, 45% of non-Hispanic white admissions, 38% of Mexican-American admissions, 38% of Asian-American admissions, and 32% of non-Hispanic black admissions. The average age of alcohol admissions by 2008 was 40 years.

Heroin represented 93% of all opiate admissions in 1998, but declined to 71% by 2008. On the other hand, non-heroin opiates rose from 7% of all opiate admissions in 1998 to 29 percent in 2008. By the end of the ten-year span, non-heroin opiates rose from 1% to 6% of all opiate admissions, clearly demonstrating the spread of prescription drug abuse across the nation. Heroin addiction accounted for 14% of all admissions in 1998; this percentage experienced a decline in 2007, but peaked again to 14% by 2008. Overall, opiate addiction admissions rose from 16% in 1998 to 20% by 2008. Heroin admissions were more likely to be non-Hispanic white males (of primary heroin abuse admissions, 68% were male and 56% were white). For non-heroin opiate admissions, the gender difference was slight (just over 53% were male), and the majority were overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white (89% of primary non-heroin opiate abuse admissions where white). The average ages for heroin and non-heroin opiate admissions were 36 years and 32 years, respectively.

Marijuana admissions rose from 13% of all admissions in 1998 to 17% in 2008. The average age of primary marijuana admissions was 24 years, but the majority of admissions ages 12–17 reported marijuana as their primary or secondary substance of abuse (79%). In total, all adolescent admissions for substance abuse rose by 13% in 2002, but declined by 10% in 2008. The majority of marijuana admissions were male (74%) and more likely to be non-Hispanic white (49% white, 30% non-Hispanic black, and 15% Hispanic). Marijuana was more likely to be a secondary drug of abuse among admissions.

Cocaine admissions experienced a decline from 15% in 1998 to 11% in 2008. The majority of primary non-smoked cocaine abuse admissions reported inhalation as their route of administration (82%). Of primary non-smoked cocaine abuse admissions, 65% were male, and the majority were non-Hispanic white (52% white, 24% non-Hispanic black, and 20% Hispanic). The majority of cocaine admissions, however, were smoked cocaine users (crack cocaine), although this figure declined as well from 74% of all cocaine admissions in 1998 to 71% by 2008. Fifty-seven percent of crack cocaine admissions were male, and 50% were non-Hispanic black (followed by 39% non-Hispanic white and 8% Hispanic). The average age for non-smoked cocaine admissions was 34 years, but the average age for crack cocaine admissions was 40 years.

Stimulants (methamphetamine/amphetamines) saw an increase in admissions from 4% in 1998 to 6% by 2008. Of the data available, 95% of stimulant admissions were for methamphetamine abuse. The majority of stimulant abuse admissions (66%) reported smoking as the route of administration, and 55% were male. Those who reported stimulants are their primary substance of abuse were more likely to be non-Hispanic white (65% white, followed by 21% Hispanic).

In summary, non-heroin opiates, marijuana, and methamphetamine abuse admissions saw an increase while alcohol, cocaine, and heroin abuse admissions declined over the ten-year span. Alcohol, opiates, and methamphetamine were more likely to be the primary substance of abuse rather than admissions’ secondary substance of abuse. Alcohol was reported in 61% of all admissions, with 41% as the primary substance of abuse; opiates represented 27% of all admissions, with 20% as the primary substance of abuse. Methamphetamine admissions were the most likely to be referred to treatment by the criminal justice system, and most likely to receive long-term treatment. Although alcohol abuse alone admissions declined, drug abuse alone rose from 26% in 1998 and 37% by 2008. Poly-substance abuse was reported in 55% of all admissions by 2008, remaining a prominent problem within this population. Unemployment among admissions steadily rose between 1998 and 2008 from 24% to 37% of admissions. The average age of admissions was 34 years, with 7% of admissions under the age of 18.

During his campaign, President Obama made the commitment to reduce substance abuse among the American population. This month, he, as well as drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, agree that America’s ‘War on Drugs’ has failed to prove effective in treating the massive drug abuse and trafficking epidemic that has intensified over the past few decades. However, two-thirds of Obama’s record $15.5 billion drug war policy will still be spent on law enforcement, while only $5.6 billion will be spent on prevention and treatment programs. Although President Obama pledges to address drug abuse as a public health issue rather than a justice system policy, this radical change will not be seen overnight. Legalizing substances and increasing community prevention and treatment programs have been proposed solutions to the problem, but have yet to be determined. The U.S. remains the world’s number one global market for drug sales and distribution, and is costing thousands of innocent lives. Until America’s drug addiction can be slowed, drug trafficking, distribution, and use will remain in high demand.

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