The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) last week released the results of the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use. According to the federal agency, about 1.4 million people over the age of 12 reported using methamphetamine within the past year, a number "similar to the number of users in the prior two years." Of that number, some 600,000 reported using the popular stimulant within the last month, also "similar to the numbers in 2002 and 2003," SAMHSA said.
But the agency also reported that the number of past-month users who met the criteria for dependence or abuse had increased from 27.5% (164,000) in 2002 to 59.3% (346,000) in 2004. Oddly, however, SAMHSA reported that of those meth users suffering from "illicit drug dependence or abuse," only 130,000 had stimulants as their primary drug of abuse.
SAMSHA's national survey meth page trumpets the same finding -- the number of dependent or abusing meth users is up dramatically -- but the fine print tells a more nuanced story: "Respondents who acknowledged illicit drug use in the past 12 months were also asked to report symptoms of dependence or abuse they experienced during that period. Dependence or abuse is defined using criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and includes such symptoms as withdrawal, tolerance, use in dangerous situations, trouble with the law, and interference in major obligations at work, school, or home during the past year. Questions about abuse and dependence symptoms are asked separately for each class of drugs used but not for each specific drug. As NSDUH does not include abuse and dependence questions on methamphetamine as such, this report provides information on abuse and dependence involving any illicit drug and any stimulant among current methamphetamine users."
In other words, when SAMHSA reports that 346,000 meth users last year qualified as dependent or abusers, it misleads those who do not read carefully. Roughly one-third of that number were described as mainly using meth or other stimulants, while the other two-thirds of abusing or dependent meth users may indeed use speed once a month but qualify as dependent because they smoke marijuana daily or are alcoholics or meet some other criteria for abuse or dependence on some other substance.