August 31, 2000
Contact: SAMHSA Media Services, Phone: (301)443-8956


Youth Drug Use Continues Downward Trend;
First-Time State-by-State Data Available

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today released findings of the 1999 National Household Survey showing that the decline in illicit drug use among young people age 12-17 that began in 1997 continued through 1999. Illicit drug use among the overall population 12 and older remained flat.

According to the trend data in the report, an estimated 9.0 percent of youths age 12-17 reported current illicit drug use in 1999, meaning they used an illicit drug at least once during the 30 days prior to the time of the survey interview. There is a significant consistent downward trend over the last three years, from a 11.4 percent in 1997 to 9.9 percent in 1998 and 9.0 percent in 1999.

For the first-time ever, the survey provides state-by-state estimates of illicit drug, alcohol and cigarette use by age group, as well as information about the brands of cigarettes that Americans smoke. This new, expanded data on demographic and geographic populations will be a valuable tool for states and community-based organizations to better tailor their programs to their communities. According to this new expanded survey, current drug use varies substantially among states, ranging from a low of 4.7 percent to a high of 10.7 percent for the overall population, and from 8.0 percent to 18.3 percent for youths age 12-17.

"We now have a consistent downward trend in drug use among teenagers that is very gratifying," said Secretary Shalala. "We must continue to build on our recent efforts to push the rate of drug use down further and to address the real threat to our young people from tobacco and alcohol. Parents and teachers are our strongest allies in the battle to keep our young people drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free, but Congress can and should do more to help communities in this fight."

Barry McCaffrey, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said, "The survey provides extremely encouraging news that teen drug use is going down significantly. However, we must be aware that the younger a person is when first trying marijuana, the greater the risk of drug dependency later. Young people may think that they are only experimenting, but, as this study shows, they are really gambling with their futures."

Marijuana use for youths age 12-17 has also decreased since 1997 (9.4 percent in 1997, 8.3 percent in 1998, and 7.0 percent in 1999). Among youths age 12-17, the rate for cigarette use was 15.9 percent in 1999, not statistically different than in 1998 (18.2 percent), but significantly lower than the rate in 1997 (19.9 percent). Marlboro, Newport and Camel account for the vast majority of adolescent cigarette smoking, with 54.5 percent of current smokers age 12-17 reporting Marlboro as their usual brand.

In a separate study, HHS reported that the number of emergency room visits for drug-related reasons decreased 11 percent for youths age 12-17 from 1998 to 1999. The 1999 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) records drug-related emergency department episodes, not drug use prevalence, and helps provide a fuller picture of drug problems across the country. Overall, there were more than 550,000 drug-related hospital emergency department episodes in the United States in 1999.

Among other national trend data, the National Household Survey also showed current use of cocaine, inhalants, hallucinogens and heroin for individuals age 12 and older was stable, and use of smokeless tobacco did decrease significantly from 3.1 percent in 1998 to 2.2 percent in 1999.

Among youths age 12-17, current use of cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants remained stable. The survey also showed there were no significant changes in the percent of youths who report great risk of using marijuana once a month (30.8 percent in 1998 to 29.0 percent in 1999). Among youths age 12-17, perceived risk of cocaine use decreased significantly from 54.3 percent in 1998 to 49.8 percent 1999.

The national trends from the National Household Survey are generally consistent with results from other HHS surveys. Both the Monitoring the Future Study and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey have shown a leveling or declining trend in illicit drug use, marijuana and cigarette use among adolescents since 1997, after a period of significant increases in the early 1990's.

The rate of current alcohol use among youths 12-17 and the general population has remained relatively flat for the past several years. According to national trend data in 1999, 19 percent of youth age 12-17 reported that they drank at least once in the past month and 52 percent of Americans age 12 and older reported current alcohol use. In 1999, 7.8 percent of youths age 12-17 reported past month binge drinking and 3.6 percent reported past month heavy alcohol use.

Among adults age 18-25, the survey found increases in current illicit drug use. The rate increased between 1997 and 1999 (14.7 percent in 1997, 16.1 percent in 1998, and 18.8 percent in 1999). The rates for the age group 26-34 years old and 35 years and older in 1999 have not changed significantly since 1994.

Dr. Nelba Chavez, administrator of HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which directs the annual survey, said, "Our efforts appear to be paying off in lower levels of drug use among teens, but we must do more to reduce illicit drug use among adults, particularly those age 18 to 25. The need for drug treatment is real and growing. People need to know that treatment can help people get off and stay off drugs."

The National Household Survey provides annual estimates of the prevalence of illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco use in the U. S. and monitors the trends in use over time. It is based on a representative sample of the U.S. population age 12 and older, including persons living in households and in some group quarters such as dormitories and homeless shelters. The national trends in substance use presented in the 1999 report are based on data from a sample of 13,000 respondents using paper questionnaires similar to those used in prior years.

Over the years, SAMHSA has made improvements in the National Household Survey to provide better and more complete information on substance use. In 1999, a new, interactive, bilingual, computer-assisted questionnaire was introduced. A new sample design was implemented and the sample size was expanded almost fourfold to support the development of both national and state estimates of substance use. This new sample reflects information obtained from nearly 70,000 persons. Due to changes in the new methodology, national estimates from the expanded survey cannot be compared to data from prior surveys. The results from the expanded survey, however, will set a new baseline for better year-to-year comparisons for state and national levels. Highlights from the expanded survey follow.

1999 National Estimates from the New Expanded National Household Survey

Illicit Drug Use

Tobacco Use Alcohol Use New State-by-State Estimates

First-time estimates of substance use for all 50 states and the District of Columbia were developed using a small area estimation model that combines sample data from each state with a national regression model that includes local indicators related to substance use. State estimates are clustered in five categories ranging from the states with the highest estimates to the states with the lowest estimates.

Illicit Drug Use

Alcohol Use (Binge Drinking Only) Cigarette Use Trends in New Use of Substances (Incidence)

Trends in new use of substances are estimated using the data reported on age at first use from the computer-based 1999 National Household Survey. Because information on when people first used a substance is collected on a retrospective basis, information on first-time use or incidence is always one year behind information on current use.

The DAWN Report

The 1999 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report, also conducted by SAMHSA, provides information on the impact of drug use on hospital emergency departments in the U.S. It reports the number of episodes in which visits to the emergency department were directly related to the use of an illegal drug or non-medical use of a legal drug. DAWN is not a measure of prevalence of use, but offers complementary information to the prevalence data found in the National Household Survey.

HHS' continuing efforts to reduce tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use in the U.S. include SAMHSA's State Incentive Grants for Community-Based Action, already awarded in 20 states and the District of Columbia to support coordinated substance abuse prevention services. Regional Centers for the Application of Prevention Technology work to ensure consistent implementation of research-based prevention programs, practices and policies. SAMHSA's new Targeted Capacity Expansion Grants also assist local governments and Indian tribal governments to address serious, emerging drug problems at the earliest possible stage.

Additionally, HHS= efforts to reduce marijuana use among America's youth continue through its comprehensive Marijuana Initiative begun in 1995. As part of this initiative, HHS has funded new research on the effects of marijuana and launched major prevention-oriented campaigns-such as the anti-marijuana campaign "Reality Check"-to help parents educate children about the dangers of drugs. A new, updated version of our free publication, "Keeping Youth Drug Free," targeted at parents of young teenagers, was issued today. This publication and other free materials, "Marijuana: What Parents Need to Know" and "Tips for Teens," can be obtained by calling 1-800-729-6686 or by accessing SAMHSA=s National Clearinghouse for Drug and Alcohol Information Web site

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Note: Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey are available on the World Wide Web at

Note: All HHS press releases are available on the World Wide Web at