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Rhode Island Tops List of Drug Use among Young People

In a national survey conducted in 2006 and 2007 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Rhode Island was shown to have the highest rate of illicit drug use for the 12 and older age group. The small coastal state was among six states that saw significant increases in illicit drug use since the previous survey in 2005-2006. The study also showed that Rhode Island had the highest percentage of people who needed drug-abuse treatment but didn’t receive it.

The state was also ranked number one for illicit drug use in the previous survey. “It’s a challenge we have been facing for some time now,” said Craig Stenning, director of the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, which oversees substance-abuse treatment. “The Northeast always comes out extremely high in illicit drug use,” he said.

The urban environment and the state’s location between Boston and New York make drugs easily attainable. “The accessibility of drugs and alcohol is certainly much higher (here) than in the Midwest where you have to travel 20 to 30 miles,” Stenning said. “Availability is always documented by law enforcement to be much higher in this state.”

The data, taken from interviews with 135,672 people across the nation, found wide variation among the states. For example, while 12.5 percent of Rhode Island citizens reported illicit drug use, only 5.2 Iowans reported it. Respondents were asked whether they had used illicit drugs in the previous month, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and abused prescription medications.

Rhode Island also had the highest percentage of people ages 12 and older who said they’d had an alcoholic beverage within the past month. Rhode Island had 63.1 percent compared with 56 percent for the Northeast and 51 percent for the nation. Even among people ages 12-17 (below the legal drinking age), Rhode Island still had the highest rate with 21.6 percent. The Northeast had 18.2 percent and the nation had 16.2 percent.

“This report shows that while every state faces its own unique pattern of public health problems, these problems confront every state,” said Eric Broderick, SAMHSA’s acting administrator. “By highlighting the exact nature and scope of the problems in each state, we can help state public health authorities better determine the most effective ways of addressing them.”

As for the issue of people needing treatment and not receiving it, Stenning explained that denial and stigma are bigger obstacles that the availability of treatment. He said that it’s easy to say you need treatment but a completely different matter to actually seek it. He explained that the state’s substance-abuse centers have survived the budget crisis due to a federal grant, and that last year about 14,000 people obtained substance-abuse treatment in state-licensed treatment centers.

Posted on June 4th, 2009
Posted in Young Adults

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