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Many more treated for meth, pot

USA Today, April 25, 2006

Prescription drugs, methamphetamine and marijuana are sending more people than ever into drug treatment, according to new federal data that also reflect how criminal sentencing policies have dramatically increased the number of drug users in treatment.

The data, released Monday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, indicate that alcohol remains by far the most common reason for substance abuse treatment.

However, alcohol abuse was a factor in only 40% of the roughly 1.9 million admissions to U.S. treatment centers in 2004, down from 53% of the nearly 1.7 million admissions a decade earlier. The more recent numbers show a broadening in the variety of addictions, posing new challenges to treatment centers across the nation, the agency's Mark Weber says.

The number of addicts seeking treatment for abusing prescription opiates such as OxyContin remained relatively small 63,243 in 2004 but was up 62% from three years earlier, the report says. Prescription drug abusers accounted for about 3% of those in treatment in 2004, triple the percentage of a decade earlier.

Meanwhile, the number of meth addicts in treatment in 2004 129,079 represented a jump of 57% from 2001. Meth addicts made up 7% of those in treatment in 2004. Weber says the rising impact of such addicts is forcing treatment centers to retool their programs to accommodate longer, more intensive treatment. "It's the insidious nature of this drug. It grabs hold of people so quickly and destroys their lives so rapidly."

In Arkansas, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma and Utah, meth addicts represented at least 20% of those seeking treatment, the data show. Hawaii's treatment programs had the highest proportion of meth addicts, 41%.

Winnie Wechsler, executive director of Phoenix Houses of California, which provides daily treatment to 2,200 people, says the rise in meth addicts is continuing.

The data also reflect the increase in the number of courts that focus on drug cases and offer options for treatment instead of jail. The number of marijuana users in treatment topped 298,000 in 2004, more than double the number from a decade earlier. The data show that 57% of those treated for marijuana use in 2004 entered treatment centers under court orders.