Information on substance use initiation is important for policymakers and researchers. Measures of initiation provide valuable information that can be used to assess the effectiveness of current prevention programs
and to focus prevention efforts
In its 2011 survey, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals findings of the number and rate of past year initiation of illicit drug use among the total population aged 12 or older. Initiation of this survey is also referred to as incidence or first-time use.
The following is the key information from the 2011 NSDUH initiation of illicit drug use findings:
- In 2011, about 3.1 million persons aged 12 or older used an illicit drug for the first time within the past 12 months; this averages to about 8,400 new users per day.
- Of the estimated 3.1 million persons aged 12 or older in 2011 who used illicit drugs for the first time within the past 12 months, a majority reported that their first drug was marijuana (67.5%).
- More than 1 in 5 initiated with the non-medical use of psychotherapeutics (22% - including 14% with pain relievers, 4.2% with tranquilizers, 2.6% with stimulants, and 1.2% with sedatives).
- A notable proportion reported inhalants (7.5%) as their first illicit drug, and a small proportion used hallucinogens (2.8%).
The figure below demonstrates the first specific drug associated with initiation of illicit drug use among past year illicit drug initiates aged 12 or older in 2011:
- In 2011, the specific illicit drug category with the largest number of recent initiates among persons aged 12 or older was marijuana use (2.6%), followed by non-medical use of pain relievers (1.9 million), non-medical use of tranquilizers (1.2 million), ecstasy (0.9 million), and cocaine and stimulants (0.7 million each).
The figure below demonstrates the past year initiates of specific illicit drugs among persons aged 12 or older in 2011:
- Among persons aged 12 to 49 in 2011, the average age at first use was 16.4 years for inhalants, 17.5 years for marijuana, 19.6 years for ecstasy, 20.1 years for cocaine, 21.8 years for pain relievers, 22.1 years for heroin, 22.2 years for stimulants, and 24.6 years for tranquilizers.
The figure below represents the mean age at first use for specific illicit drugs among past year initiates aged 12 to 49 in 2011: