Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Drug Use in the United States

This report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) details drug use across the 50 states based on the 2006 and 2007 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, which involved interviews with over 135,000 people around the country. It revealed a rather wide range of reported drug use between states, as you can see in this map, which is derived from a map in the report:

drug use map of the united states

The report actually has its own maps, but I warn you that they are very ugly. That's why I had to make my own.

A couple things are striking about this map. The less surprising of these things is that there's a very wide range in the numbers of people who report using drugs in the past year - from 5.55% in North Dakota to 11.10% in Alaska. I should say: in itself this isn't surprising, but the particular pattern of the distribution does surprise me somewhat. I would expect higher rates of drug use in states with smaller rural populations, but this map seems to show that that's just a false intuition.

The other striking thing about the map - and another thing that challenges my prejudices - is that there doesn't seem to be any correlation between the wealth or human development of states and their level of drug use. Some high-development states, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have low levels of drug use; and some, like Massachusetts and Colorado, have high levels of drug use. And some low-development states, like Arkansas and Tennessee, have high levels of drug use, while others, like South Carolina and Alabama, have low levels of drug use. There do seem to be some regional trends - especially the high rates of drug use in the non-Mormon West - but a lot of variation within regions as well. All in all it just looks pretty random. What do you think - am I missing something here?

(Thanks to Nikolas Schiller for the link.)

UPDATE: Richard Florida has some interesting follow-up in a couple of posts; he uses actual statistics and stuff do dig into this data a bit more. (One tidbit: more people do drugs in Obama states! Republicans ought to appreciate that. Come to think of it, Democrats might appreciate that as well...)

95 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I would expect higher rates of drug use in states with smaller rural populations, but this map seems to show that that's just a false intuition." I would assume just the opposite. What else is there to do in small isolated locations? Have sex and do drugs. Look at Missouri for example. It's basically the meth capitol of the world.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting map - but doesn't surprise me, esp. the large amount of reported use in the "non-Mormon West" (I'm thinking meth and/or pot) and somehow the high percentage in New England (college kids?) doesn't shock me either.

I would think there would be variation based on what *type* of drugs used - meth, pot, crack, etc.

Anonymous said...

I think it matters a lot what is counted as a "drug". I personally don't think alcohol or cannabis should be included in the numbers, whereas I wouldn't mind tobacco being included.

Basically, the real numbers we need to look at are serious drugs (opiates, meth, cocaine/crack, barbiturates, pcp). I think that'll show a very different distribution.

Maitri said...

Another one chiming in with a request for map by drug type. If you remove marijuana from the equation, what does the map look like?

Then again, the fact that pot may be used a lot in the NW states is less indicative of recreational use and more of daily routine. Furthermore, there are differences among substance use, abuse and dependency.

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Chachy said...

Anon the 3rd - I can see why you'd want to count tobacco as well as weed and alcohol, or count none of those 3, but why count tobacco and not the other two?

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C.C. said...

Nice work! However, since when is Massachusetts considered a "low development" state, or even remotely comparable to a state like Colorado?! =)

On another note, I would except states that have large rural areas to have meth, ecstasy, etc problems.

C.C. said...

That should have been "expect." You catch my drift.

Anonymous said...

It's great to see that so much of the country is on drugs and so much of that is obviously pot. I'm a fan.

Frank Stone Stickney said...

Perhaps the data would be easier to make sense of where the divisions broken down into each state's counties. A recent TED Conference video clip I watched on exploring statistics opened my eyes to the pitfalls of relying on just one method or perspective when analyzing data. Also, during the last presidential election in the U.S., the NY Times had some excellent interactive data-maps that showed candidate support by counties that was eye-opening in a similar way. Studying drug use within counties rather than states might illuminate more clearly the urban/rural distinctions, as well as other economic divisions. Sounds like a lot of work, though, so I'm hoping someone else will pick up the torch...

Anonymous said...

this map is TOTAL BS, and the lady who wrote on this subject is a right wing FLAKE, of course most high drug use states were Obama states...HE WON ALMOST ALL US STATES IN THE ELECTORATE YOU NINNY. Being an EX-user...I can tell all people reading this crap...its not true, or objectionable.... the lady who put this out is an IDIOT

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