A recent study reveals that drug use among America’s youth has seen a steady decline over the past decade, while drug use among baby boomers over 50 years old has only been increasing. Researchers tracked not only the age brackets that were participating in illegal drug use, but also what types of drugs were being used. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) findings from 2011, marijuana stood high above the rest as the most used illicit drug among both children and adults.

In 2011 alone, 22.5 million Americans ages 12 and older had used an illicit drug during the month of the survey's interview. Illicit drugs include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or the nonmedical use of prescription drugs such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives. In 2011, marijuana use made up 18.1 million of the surveyed users — a significant increase from 2007’s 14.5 million users.

The government-conducted nationwide survey has been collecting statistical drug, alcohol, and tobacco information since 1971, and findings were released just in time for September’s National Recovery Month. The most recently released numbers revealed that, among children and teenagers ages 12 to 17, illicit drug use dropped to 9.5 percent from 11.6 percent in the previous decade. The researchers found an average of 8,400 new illicit drug users, ages 12 and older, every day — and 67.5 percent of them were trying marijuana.

“There’s no question that marijuana is harmful to the developing brains of adolescents,” said Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA’s administrator. According to Hyde, marijuana use is linked to “significant I.Q. declines.”

The study was released at a press conference to kick off National Recovery Month and to raise awareness. Officials at the Washington-based conference expressed special concern for users between the ages of 12 and 17. However, findings showed that illicit drug use among adults 50 to 64 years of age has more than doubled since 2002. More surprisingly, illicit drug use among adults, ages 55 to 59, has more than tripled. This is likely due to a clear trend in research that suggests individuals who start using drugs at a young age are more likely to develop addiction as they get older. The recent findings could be pointing to a problem that has grown over time from youth aging into the 50-and-over crowd.

With such a large population participating in illicit drug use, SAMHSA used its data to create perspective, specifically for those who use marijuana. The amount of marijuana used on an average day could almost fill the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 250,000-seat stadium two-and-a-half times.

“While other studies indicate that significant progress has been made in lowering the levels of some forms of substance use among adolescents in the past decade, this report shows that far too many young people are still at risk,” said Hyde.

SAMHSA is one of the leaders in substance abuse rehabilitation and mental illness in America, offering around-the-clock national helplines. For National Recovery Month, it utilizes social media to help spread the message on drug use through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It also promotes e-cards for recovering addicts or for those who need help, and provides banners, logos, flyers, and t-shirts for those who want to start their own community organization or awareness campaign this month.

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. 2013.