Patterns and Trends of Drug Use in Atlanta: January–June 2013

Brian J. Dew, Ph.D., and Ned Golubovic, M.S.

Overview of Findings: This update brief presents patterns and trends of drug abuse in the Atlanta metropolitan area in the first half of 2013. The two key findings in the Atlanta area during January through June 2013 were an increase in heroin indicators and an increase in methamphetamine indicators.

Updated Drug Abuse Trends and Emerging Patterns

Heroin: Although lower than in other metropolitan areas, heroin indicators all showed increases in this reporting period, with heroin representing 5.8 percent of primary treatment admissions in the first half of 2013, compared with 3.3 percent of admissions in 2011 and 4.3 percent in 2012. Individuals seeking treatment in the first half of 2013 were younger and more likely to be White than in previous years. Proportions of primary heroin treatment admissions age 18–28 increased from 57.7 percent of total admissions in 2011, and 58.4 percent in 2012, to 63.6 percent of all admissions in the first half of 2013. White treatment admissions rose as a percentage of total primary admissions from 2011 and 2012 levels (65.0 and 64.7 percent, respectively) in the first half of 2013, when they represented 74.8 percent of admissions. Ethnographic reports from local heroin users revealed an increase in the availability of Mexican heroin in Atlanta. Users suggested minimal difference between the purity levels of South American and Mexican heroin available at the retail level. Drug reports for heroin among drug items seized and analyzed in National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) laboratories in the Atlanta area increased from 328 in 2011, to 512 in 2012, and to an annualized total of more than 700 drug reports for 2013.

Methamphetamine-related public treatment admissions continued to increase yearly (from 5.2 percent in 2010, to 5.7 percent in 2011, to 6.4 percent in 2012, and to 6.8 percent in the first half of 2013). In the first 6 months of 2013, the proportion of individuals seeking public treatment for methamphetamine in Atlanta was at the highest level since 2006. The percentage of injection use among individuals seeking methamphetamine treatment was at a 10-year high. The Georgia State Medical Examiner’s (ME’s) Office reported an increasing number of deaths with methamphetamine present in fiscal year (FY) 2013, compared with FY 2012. NFLIS data also indicated an increase in methamphetamine drug reports among seized and analyzed drug items, and, for the first time, methamphetamine drug reports ranked highest among all drugs in the NFLIS data for Atlanta.

Cocaine: Available cocaine indicators Atlanta continued to decline. Primary cocaine public drug treatment admissions decreased from 12.8 percent in 2010, to 10.8 percent in 2011, to 10.5 percent in 2012, and to 9.2 percent in the first half of 2013. This is the first time that less than 10 percent of Atlanta’s primary substance abuse treatment admissions were for cocaine. However, compared with the previous 10 years, a greater proportion of 25–34-year-olds sought public substance abuse treatment for cocaine in Atlanta. Both the State ME’s Office and the Georgia Poison Control Center reported decreases from FY 2010 to FY 2013 in cocaine-related incidents, specifically the number of deaths and poisonings. Cocaine drug reports among items seized and analyzed by NFLIS laboratories in the first half of 2013 were stable from the previous year (22.5 versus 22.3 percent). Cocaine constituted the second highest percentage of overall drug reports from analyzed items in this reporting period.

Alcohol (defined as alcohol only and alcohol in combination with other drugs) was the most commonly reported drug used in Atlanta based on available sources. It was the primary drug of abuse in nearly one-half of all treatment admissions. Public treatment data indicated that alcohol was the most commonly used secondary drug among cocaine and marijuana users.

Marijuana/Cannabis: The number of clients seeking public treatment for marijuana as a primary drug of choice slightly decreased, from 17.3 percent in 2011, to 16.3 percent in 2012, and to 16.1 percent in the first half of 2013, making marijuana the most commonly used illicit drug in Atlanta. Results from Atlanta’s Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) II program also indicated a decrease in positive urine tests for marijuana among local arrestees in 2013, compared with the previous 3 years.

Prescription Drugs: In the first half of 2013, available drug indicators (treatment admissions data and NFLIS drug reports) suggested that oxycodone was the most reported prescription drug in the Atlanta area. Treatment admissions data demonstrated that oxycodone decreased (3.0 percent in 2012 to 2.8 percent in the first half of 2013) after increasing consistently from 2007 through 2011. Data from the State ME’s Office showed a slight decrease in oxycodone postmortem result entries from FY 2012 to FY 2013. Alprazolam, the most commonly reported benzodiazepine, displayed similar trends, with stable treatment admissions and a slight decrease in drug reports among items analyzed by NFLIS laboratories from 2012 to the first half of 2013. The State ME’s Office also reported a slight decrease in deaths with alprazolam present from FY 2010 to FY 2013. The State ME’s Office data indicated an increase in the number of deaths associated with hydrocodone, while NFLIS data showed a slight decrease in drug reports among items analyzed from 2012 to the first half of 2013.

Other Drugs: MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) trends continued to be stable, and the drug accounted for less than 0.1 percent of treatment admissions. State ME and NFLIS indicators were also stable for MDMA.

Data Sources: Treatment data were provided by the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Coverage includes all direct providers of treatment services that receive county or State program funds in the 28 coun­ties that constitute metropolitan Atlanta. Data on all client admissions for drug and alcohol treatment––not just data for clients receiving treatment paid by public funding sources—are included in the data set. This report presents admissions data from January through June 2013––the most recent data available––and makes comparisons with percentages from prior years. Mortality data came from the Georgia State Medical Examiner’s Office for FYs 20102013. Forensic laboratory data were provided by NFLIS from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration for 2011 through the first half of 2013. Marijuana/cannabis drug reports may not be accurate due to changes in field testing practices. Georgia Poison Control Center data include data for 2010 through the first 6 months of 2013. Arrestee data for Atlanta were obtained from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) II program and include 2002–2013 data.

For inquiries concerning this report, please contact Brian J. Dew, Ph.D., Georgia State University, P.O. Box 3980, Atlanta, GA 30302–3890, Phone: 404–413–8168, Fax: 404–413–8013, E-mail: