America's Addiction To Illicit Drugs Is Declining, But Prescription Painkiller Abuse Is Growing

prescription pills, medicine bottle, medicine, RX, drugs

Photo: Flickr / AKZOphoto

Earlier today, we encouraged people to consider alternatives to America’s drug policy when we presented Portugal, a country where drug abuse and disease rates dropped following their 2001 decision to decriminalize all drugs. Now it appears that while U.S. drug policy is unlikely to drastically change in the near future, America’s drug abuse problem already has.The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health was recently released and within the documents was a startling but not altogether unexpected finding: America’s drug abuse problem is moving away from illicit drugs like cocaine and moving towards the abuse of prescription painkillers, reports the NY Times.

Figures from the most current National Survey on Drug Use and Health illustrated this shift, with an estimated 1.5 million people using cocaine in the previous month, down from 2 million in 2002, and 5.8 million in the mid-1980s. Methamphetamine use followed a similar trend, while heroin use was up only a bit, from 213,000 users in 2008 to 239,000 in 2010, reports the NY Times.

In place of these drugs is a booming prescription painkillers abuse problem. The same National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 7 million users of “psychotherapeutics” in the previous month in 2010. Even more startling was another finding —in 2008, there were 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States and of those, 20,044 involved prescription drugs, a figure greater than all other illicit drugs combined. 

For people trying to extrapolate beyond the numbers though, don’t think this is a result of the American or Mexican War on Drugs says Mark L. Schneider, special adviser on Latin America at the International Crisis Group. In an interview with the NY Times, he said this: 

“All interdiction and law enforcement did was shift cultivation from Colombia to Peru, and the increase in interdiction in the Caribbean drove trafficking to Mexico, and now with the increase in violence there it has driven trafficking to Central America as the first stop. So it is all virtually unchanged.”

Instead, prices remain at about the same levels as the 1980s, indicating it is a decrease in demand, not supply, that is causing the drop in conventional illicit drug use.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.