Alarming data about drug use in Oregon

Written by Keith Walker December 01, 2010 for the La Grande Observer
Keith Walker is an addiction specialist with Grande Ronde Recovery in La Grande.

Latest data about drug abuse has some alarming information for Oregon residents.

Although this survey took place in 2007-2008, it is a clear indicator of what was happening not too long ago, and certainly offers suggestion to what is in fact continuing today.

Union County Courthouse in La Grande, Oregon

Union County Courthouse in La Grande, Oregon

As of the time of the survey, Oregon ranked as the second highest state by percentage use of illicit drugs by those 12 and older in the country. One of 8 Oregonians had used illegal drugs in the past 30 days of survey.

This survey also shows other important issues. When broken down into age groups, past use in the last 30 days of illegal drugs for those 12-17 was more than 12 percent (1 in 8). That is third in the nation. We also, at the time, ranked No. 1 in the nation for illegal drug use in mature adults, those ages 26 and older at a rate of 1 in 10. And though ranked sixth, those individuals ages 18-25 used illegal drugs at a rate of more than 1 in 4.

This data came as a result of the work done by The National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They do an annual survey of 72,000 Americans 12 and older. The survey provides national and state-level data about the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs (including non-medical use of prescription drugs) and mental health in the United States. More information may be found at

What is very concerning about this newest data is the information about our young people — specifically, the overall numbers about illicit and prescription drugs. Information collected for the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey for 2009 shows that 1 out of 19 Oregon eighth-graders, and 1 out of 12 Oregon 11th- graders has abused prescription drugs in the past 30 days.

And also from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health research we see that initiates for specific illicit drugs (first-time users) have been more likely to try pain-relievers and sedatives than marijuana.

So what can be done about this growing issue? We know addiction is a biological situation, a change in brain functioning that leads people to behave in a compulsive manner in relation to the use of substances. We also know that though this is a chronic malady, treatment and recovery is possible. The best way for individuals to begin that process is, of course, abstinence. One way to intervene with someone struggling is to try to put up barriers to their usage. An easy way to do this for many is to simply lock up your medicine cabinet. Products in there that have true functioning in a medicinal sense for you may be “the score” for others.

Disposing of medication that you have not used is also helpful. The main point to be made is that addiction is a disease, not a lack of will, a moral dilemma or the result of a low IQ.

Abuse is the first step to potential dependence, and again the number of people who could suffer is growing statewide. We need to be aware and educated about this for ourselves, as well as those around us. If substance use becomes a problem, seek help. There is no shame in seeking treatment. It’s what one needs to do.