These are perilous times for drug warriors. With self-reported illicit drug use flat or declining, there is a danger of complacency—or, worse, smaller budgets. At the same time, it's important to claim a victory now and then; otherwise taxpayers may begin to worry that their money is being wasted in a futile effort to stop people from using politically incorrect intoxicants. In its description of the latest numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Office of National Drug Control Policy walks that thin line between gratitude and apathy, panic and hopelessness:
YOUTH DRUG USE AT A FIVE YEAR LOW, NEW SURVEY SHOWS
25 Percent Drop in Marijuana Use by Teen Boys
More Youths Starting Drug Use with Painkillers Than Marijuana;
Prescription Drug Abuse Remains a Concern
In short, we know the war on drugs is working because fewer teenagers are smoking pot, but we need to redouble our efforts, because a lot of them are still swiping Percocets from the medicine cabinet. This carefully calibrated message does not hold up very well when you look at the actual numbers. It turns out that self-reported "prescription drug abuse" among teenagers is not only not going up; it fell between 2003 and 2005, then leveled off. Overall, past-month "nonmedical use of psychotherapeutics" by 12-to-17-year-olds went from 4 percent in 2002 to 3.3 percent in 2006, a drop of about 18 percent. That's roughly the same as the decline in past-month marijuana use, which went from 8.2 percent to 6.7 percent during the same period. So one could just as easily say that prescription drug abuse is down, while pot smoking remains disturbingly common, as the reverse. Presumably the ONDCP went with the prescription drug angle for the novelty factor, although it's already getting pretty old.
But what about the "methamphetamine epidemic"? It still stubbornly refuses to show up in nationally representative surveys of drug use. No matter which age group or measure you look at, illegal use of "stimulants" (a subcategory of "psychotherapeutics" that does not include cocaine) has been flat or declining in this survey since 2002, the first year it was conducted. For 2006 the government did not even bother to break out methamphetamine as a separate category.
[Thanks to Mike Kelty for the tip.]