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NIDA. (1999, September 1). Drug Abuse and Addiction Research: 25 Years of Discovery to Advance the Health of the Public. Retrieved from

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Research on the Nature and Extent of Drug Use in the United States

Understanding the scope and scale of drug use and addiction in the United States, determining their prevalence among various populations, and learning about their many health and social consequences are critical if we are to solve this complex problem in the most efficient and timely manner possible. It is through epidemiological research that we are able to identify and examine trends in both drug use and in the attitudes that Americans have toward drug use. Many epidemiological studies, including a variety of surveys, experimental studies, and field investigations, are conducted on a continuing basis, and these studies provide long-term data trends that can help measure our successes in preventing and treating drug use. Other studies occur but once, shedding light on particular issues or emerging drug problems.

This chapter presents some of the most recent findings from three major sources of epidemiologic data on drug use. It also provides a perspective on patterns and trends in drug use. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study and the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) Study are sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whereas the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Data Sources

Monitoring the Future Study [1]

NIDA's Monitoring the Future Study is a national survey that tracks drug use trends and attitudes about drugs among America's adolescents. The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research has conducted the survey each year since 1975 among 12th graders; 8th and 10th graders were surveyed for the first time in 1991. Each spring, students from all three grades in a representative sample of public and private schools are asked anonymously via a questionnaire if they have used any of a wide range of drugs, including tobacco. In 1997 approximately 51,000 students in 429 public and private secondary schools were surveyed.

National Household Survey on Drug Abuse [2]

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse regularly produces estimates of drug use among members of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States age 12 and older. The survey, using trained interviewers to visit respondents in their homes, has been conducted since 1971. In the 1997 sampling, 24,505 interviews were conducted, with the subjects selected to represent a cross-section of race, gender, region of the country, population density, education level, and current employment.

Community Epidemiology Work Group [3]

The Community Epidemiology Work Group is a NIDA-sponsored network of researchers from 20 major U.S. metropolitan areas who monitor community-level trends in drug use and abuse, primarily through collection and analysis of epidemiologic and ethnographic research data. Data collected by the working group include drug-related deaths reported by medical examiner/local coroner offices or State public health agencies; drug-related emergency department citations reported to SAMHSA's Drug Abuse Warning Network; primary substance use reports given by clients on admission to treatment programs; urinalysis results from those arrested by local police departments; and seizure, price, purity, prescription/ distribution, and arrest data from the Drug Enforcement Agency and from State and local enforcement agencies. These quantitative data are enhanced with information obtained through field reports, focus groups, interviews, and other qualitative methods.