By Michael Campbell
Each year the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) releases data on addiction treatment in the United States. These reports are especially useful for healthcare professionals so that we can see merging trends and hopefully design programs that better reach the affected populations. Very importantly, they also point the direction for greater preventative efforts.
Recently released data for 2011 provides some thought provoking information. The first number is always troubling. Out of an estimated 24 million Americans with serious substance abuse problems, only 1.84 million sought admission to a treatment facility. This reminds us of how many of our family and friends have untreated addiction — and are driving cars, going to work, and raising families in a state of impairment. It also reminds us of the continuing stigma that prevents so many people with addiction from reaching out for help.
The study confirmed a pattern that has been recorded for many years. The number of men seeking help for substance abuse exceeds women by a ratio of 2:1. This reflects the established knowledge that more men than women suffer from addiction, but it disguises the fact that the gap is narrowing. It should also be noted that addicted women tend to experience medical and social consequences much faster, face more barriers to treatment, find it harder to stop, and are more susceptible to relapse.
Many people are surprised by the primary drug of choice among the 12 to 17 year age group. The top substance of abuse among men seeking treatment at this age is marijuana (80.7%) While marijuana is also the leading drug used by young women, the abuse of alcohol is double that of men (21.7% vs. 10.5%). Alcohol becomes the primary substance of abuse for addicted men seeking treatment as they pass 35 years of age and for women over 45.
The abuse of prescription pain relievers is changing. The highest use continues to be among both men and women in their 20s, with abuse by women exceeding that of men. However, what is not reflected in the chart below is the shift from prescription pain relievers to heroin that has been occurring in the past year. As the availability of oxycodone, Percocet and other prescription opiates declines, and the street price increases, there has been a shifting to heroin which is widely available and far less expensive. This frightening upsurge in heroin addiction has been reported by treatment centers across the country.
The study reveals other information that requires careful consideration. Women are using methamphetamines in almost twice the numbers as men, and have greater vulnerability due to physiological factors. Research shows no meaningful differences in rates of addiction treatment based on race or ethnicity. And there is a new group of addicts emerging; women who are over 65 and have become addicted to prescription pain relievers at 3 times the rate of men.
In summary, there are shifting patterns of substance abuse in America that characterize a problem that has seen little improvement in the past decade. Too many people are addicted. Too often the addiction begins at a very young age. Too few people seek help, allowing their addiction to destroy careers, families and futures before it is aggressed. The message stays the same: we need to do more and we need to do it now
Michael Campbell is the Co-Founder & President of St. Joseph Institute, a leading addiction treatment center near State College, PA.