Rhode Island had the highest rate of illicit drug use in the nation among people 12 or older, according to national survey conducted in 2006 and 2007.
Rhode Island is also among six states that saw significant increases in illicit drug use since the previous survey, in 2005-06. And among those ages 12 to 25, this state had the highest percentage of people who needed drug-abuse treatment but were not receiving it, the survey estimated.
That’s according to a new state-by-state analysis of substance abuse and mental illness patterns released Thursday by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.
The data, drawn from face-to-face interviews with 135,672 people from around the country, found wide variations among the states. For example, while 12.5 percent of Rhode Islanders reported illicit drug use, the rate was only 5.2 percent among Iowans. Respondents were asked whether they had used illegal drugs within the previous month, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants and certain prescription medications if taken for nonmedical reasons.
“It’s a challenge we have been facing for some time now,” said Craig Stenning, director of the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, which oversees substance-abuse treatment. Rhode Island was also ranked number one for illicit drug use in the previous survey, conducted in 2005 and 2006.
“The Northeast always comes out extremely high in illicit drug use,” said Stenning, who founded and directed a drug-treatment agency before he entered state government. For Rhode Island, the location between Boston and New York, the easy availability of drugs and the urban environment all contribute to drug abuse, he said.
“The accessibility of drugs and alcohol is certainly much higher [here] than in the Midwest where you have to travel 20 to 30 miles,” Stenning said. “Availability is always documented by law enforcement to be much higher in this state.”
AS FOR the issue of young people needing treatment and not getting it, Stenning said, “That portion of the survey has been suspect for some time.” It’s easy to say you need treatment, but quite another matter to actually go get it, he said. Stenning asserted that denial and stigma are bigger obstacles than the availability of treatment slots. The state’s substance-abuse treatment centers have weathered the budget crisis thanks to a federal grant, and last year some 14,000 people obtained drug-abuse treatment in state-licensed centers, he said.
Rhode Island didn’t fare much better on measures of alcohol use. The state had the highest rate of people 12 or older who said they’d had an alcoholic beverage within the past month: 63.1 percent, compared with 51 percent for the nation and 56 percent for the Northeast. Even among people aged 12 to 17, well below the legal drinking age, Rhode Island still had the highest rate: 21.6 percent of Rhode Island youngsters had had a drink within the previous month, compared with 16.2 percent for the nation and 18.2 percent for the Northeast.
Rhode Island ranked sixth, with a rate slightly higher than the nation, for binge drinking –– having five or more drinks on one occasion in the previous 30 days.
Rhode Island is also in the middle when it comes to those who’d had an episode of major depression within the previous month, ranking 20th with 7.9 percent. “This report shows that while every state faces its own unique pattern of public health problems, these problems confront every state,” Eric Broderick, SAMHSA’s acting administrator, said in a statement. “By highlighting the exact nature and scope of the problems in each state, we can help state public health authorities better determine the most effective ways of addressing them.”