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SAMHSA’s Snapshot of Adolescent Drug Use and Related Problems

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A new “day in the life” report from SAMHSA says that every day 508,000 adolescents aged 12-17 in the United States drink alcohol; 641,000 use illicit drugs; and more than 1 million smoke cigarettes.

Also, 563,000 adolescents used marijuana, nearly 37,000 used inhalants, 24,000 used hallucinogens, 16,000 used cocaine and 2,800 used heroin, according to A Day in the Life of American Adolescents: Substance Use Facts Update, which is based on 2008 data.

SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. calls the findings “a wake up call about the extent to which our nation’s youth engage in risky behavior by using illegal and potentially dangerous substances everyday.”

I don’t know about that — I always find that reports focusing on raw numbers like these lack the kind of context that would make the findings useful for policy decisions. It’s more useful to contrast the usage numbers to the figures on the number of under-18s in treatment on a given day — about 76,000 in outpatient treatment, 9,000 in non-hospital residential treatment, and 700 in hospital inpatient treatment.

But again, the important questions revolve around the percentages of kids using alcohol and other drugs (large for the former, not much for the latter, with the exception of marijuana), and the extent to which adolescent treatment need is being met (answer: not much). You won’t find much help answering those questions with this report.

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