Meth Is Cited As Biggest Drug Problem

In a 2005 survey conducted by the National Association of Counties, 58 percent of law enforcement officials cited meth-amphetamine as their biggest drug problem. Some counties in the Midwest report that more than 75 percent of those incarcerated (imprisoned) in their jails are there because of meth. The United Nations identifies meth as the most abused hard drug in the world, with 26 million people addicted to it. That is more than all the cocaine and heroin abusers combined.11, 33

health risks. For example, in recent years, as knowledge of the health risks from cigarette smoking has increased, the number of teens who smoke has declined.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tracks the nation's substance abuse patterns through three major surveys: the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF), and the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). These three surveys address the broad category of "illicit drugs," which includes amphetamines (including methamphetamine and crystal meth), hallucinogens, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, and several other substances. The surveys show results about drug use, trends, and attitudes for specific drugs and particular age categories. Marijuana has dominated for almost the entire 30 years, accounting for 50 to 75 percent of all illicit drug use.19, 34, 35

Statistical information from these surveys helps the government identify potential drug abuse problem areas in order to set national drug policy and allocate financial resources that target areas of greatest need. Data from these large-scale surveys are also used to develop prevention and treatment campaigns, with particular emphasis on programs aimed at youth aged 12 to 17.

INTERPRETING THE DATA

An important role of the researcher is to interpret statistical information. All statistics need to be assessed with a critical eye, because, on the surface, percentages and rates can sound so "official" that many accept their truth without analyzing the underlying assumptions that generated the statistics in the first place. For instance, it is important to note that the surveys cited here rely on self-reporting, a method that can contribute to underreporting since teens may be reluctant to fully report their illegal drug use.

Also, statistics can sometimes be misleading. In a hypothetical example, a 90 percent increase in teen drug use over a three-year period sounds enormous. However, if the actual number of teens who used the drug went from 10 to 19, and these 19 teens were a part of a population of 250,000 people, this 90 percent increase would hardly seem as impressive. It would still be important to know that teen drug use had increased; this information could be applied in useful ways. It is important to have as much background as possible for the data being presented.

TRENDS IN TEENAGE METH USE

The National Surveys on Drug Use and Health gathered the following information for the the years 2003-2004:35

* Each year, more Americans are trying meth. The number of people over the age of 12 who have tried meth in their lifetime in 1994 was 1.8 million; in 1997, it was 5.3 million; in 1999, 9.4 million had tried it, and in 2004, the number was nearly 12 million.

* In 2004, an estimated 1.4 million people aged 12 or older had used methamphetamine in the past year, and 600,000 people had used methamphetamine in the past month.

* In those aged 12 to 17, about 300,000 had tried meth at least once in their lifetime, 163,000 had used meth at least

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