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Age

Rates of drug use show substantial variation by age. Among youths age 12-13, 4.5 percent were current illicit drug users. The highest rates were found among young people age 16-17 (15.6 percent) and age 18-20 (18.0 percent). Rates of use were lower in each successive age group, with only about one percent of persons age 50 and older reporting current illicit use (Figure 3).

Nearly half of young adults age 21-25 had tried illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime, and 12 percent were current users. More than half of adults age 26-44 had tried illicit drugs, but rates of current use were only 8.3 percent for those age 26-34 and 5.6 percent for those age 35-44.

In 1995, 27.1 percent of current illicit drug users were age 35 and older. This percentage increased from 1979, when 10.3 percent of illicit drug users were age 35 and older, until 1990, when the percentage was 26.1 percent.

The percentage of adolescents (12-17 years old) using drugs increased between 1994 and 1995, continuing a trend that began in 1993. In 1992, the rate of past month use among youth age 12-17 reached a low of 5.3 percent, the result of a decline from 16.3 percent in 1979. By 1994 the rate had climbed back up to 8.2 percent, and in 1995 it increased again to 10.9 percent (Figure 4).
Between 1994 and 1995, the percentage of adults reporting past month illicit drug use remained about the same. In 1995 the rates were 14.2 percent for persons age 18-25, 8.3 percent for those age 26-34, and 2.8 percent for those age 35 and older (Figure 4).

In 1979, the peak year for illicit drug use, rates were 38.0 percent for those age18-25, 20.8 percent for those age 26-34, and 2.8 percent for persons age 35 and older (Figure 4).

In general, the aging of people in the heavy drug using cohorts of the late 1970s, many of whom continue to use illicit drugs, has diminished any observable reductions in use among the 35+ group and has resulted in an overall shift in the age distribution of the population of illicit drug users. This shift in the age composition of drug users is also reflected in data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which shows that visits by patients age 35 and older to hospital emergency rooms for drug related problems have increased in recent years (see Advance Report Number 17). For example, in 1985, 19 percent of cocaine-related episodes involved persons age 35 and older. By 1995, this percentage had increased to 43 percent.

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This page was last updated on June 16, 2008.