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Rates of Illicit Drug Abuse in the U.S.

Marijuana Remains Most Widely Use Illegal Drug


Updated June 02, 2014

Drug Abuse Rates
James Lauritz Collection/Digital Vision/Getty Images
An estimated 20.4 million people in the United States used some kind of illicit drug in the past 30 days, according to the latest government statistics. About 8.3 percent of all persons age 12 and over are involved in use of illegal drugs or the nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a yearly interview of 67,500 persons sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, provides the most accurate estimates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use in the general U.S. population.

According to the 2006 NSDUH findings, illicit drug use rates have remained stable since 2002 and the use of some drugs has declined, but the survey has shown an alarming increase in the abuse of prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs.

Most Popular Drugs of Abuse

According to the survey, these are the most commonly abused drugs:

  • Marijuana, by 14.8 million people, or 6 percent.
  • Cocaine, 2.4 million users.
  • Hallucinogens, including Ecstasy, 1 million users.
  • Methamphetamine, about 731,000 users.
  • Prescription drugs, 7 million nonmedical users.

Increase in Pain Reliever Abuse

While the use of illicit drugs remained the same or even decreased since 2002, the past month use of prescription-type drugs increased significantly, especially the abuse of pain relievers. Of the 7 million who reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs, 5.2 million were using painkillers.

In 2002, only 4.1 percent of the population aged 18 to 25 reported abusing pain relievers, but that percentage jumped to 4.9 percent in 2006. Nonmedical use of tranquilizers also increased since 2002, from 1.6 percent to 2 percent for the same age group.

Meanwhile, for the 18 to 25 age group, the current use of marijuana dropped from 17.3 percent to 16.3 percent while at the same time prescription drug abuse increased overall from 5.4 percent to 6.4 percent.

Where Are They Getting the Drugs?

According to the NSDUH survey, those who used pain relievers nonmedically in the past 12 months got them from the following sources:

  • 55.7 percent got them free from a relative or friend.
  • 19.1 percent got them from just one doctor.
  • 3.9 percent got them from a stranger.
  • 0.1 percent bought them on the Internet.

Of the people who said they got pain relievers from a relative or friend for free, 80.7 percent said the friend or relative got the drugs from just one doctor.

Most Illegal Drug Users Are Employed

Other NSDUH findings included:

  • Of unemployed adults, 18.5 are illicit drug users.
  • Only 8.8 percent of full time employees are drug users.
  • 9.4 percent of part-time employees are drug users.
  • Most illegal drug users (13.4 million) are employed.
  • 10.2 million people drive under the influence of drugs.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings" Sept. 6, 2007.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "New National Survey Reveals Drug Use Down Among Adolescents in U.S." Sept. 6, 2007.

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