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Drug use in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

The use and abuse of illegal drugs remains a problem in all parts of the world, with an estimated 5.4 percent of the global population using illegal drugs in 2018. The problem of illegal drug use and abuse varies from country to country as different countries practice different drug laws, enforce different penalties for breaking these laws, experience varying drug availability, and possess unique cultural perspectives on such substances. The United States in particular has had an interesting and extensive history around drug use, even going so far as to fight a “War on Drugs”.

The number of people in the U.S. who used select illicit drugs in their lifetime varies by drug type, with over 127 million people using marijuana at some point in their life and some 16 million using methamphetamine at some point. An increase in use of marijuana would be unsurprising given the recent legalization in some states and rise in public support, however harder, more addictive drugs have seen surprising, and unrelated increases in use. For example, the number of people who consumed heroin during the past year in the United States increased almost yearly from 2007 to 2016, but has since seen a decrease.

The lifetime prevalence of use of any illicit drug for teens in grades 8, 10 and 12 has remained relatively stable over the last few years, at 34.7 percent in 2020, but is significantly lower than in the 1990s, which saw a high in 1997 of 43.3 percent. The availability of certain drugs for teens has also decreased in recent years with only 26.5 percent of 12th graders saying it was “fairly easy” to “very easy” to get cocaine in 2019, compared with 46.5 percent in 2006.

The death rate from drug overdose in the U.S. in 2018 varied considerably by state, but saw a national average of around 17 overdose deaths per 100,000 population. Such overdoses included traditional illicit drugs, but also misused prescription drugs, particularly opioids, abuse of which has become a serious problem in recent years. With the increased use of certain addictive and dangerous drugs and high overdose death rates in certain states, the importance of prevention and treatment remains undeniable. In 2019, there were almost 16,000 substance abuse treatment facilities in the United States, an increase from just over 13,600 facilities in 2003.


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