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Are more Americans turning to illegal drugs?

In Pennsylvania's criminal justice system, the consequences a defendant faces when he or she is faced with a drug charge can vary quite widely. This is because people ranging from casual users to drug distributors can face criminal charges related to illegal drugs. In addition, a recent study indicates that a growing number of U.S. adults are using illegal drugs.

Fueled by a rise in marijuana use, the number of U.S. residents using illegal drugs has soared to 22.6 million, according to a new government survey. USA Today reports that this number represents about 8 percent of the U.S. population.

What's behind this trend? One culprit appears to be marijuana. The study, done by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), found that in 2010 17.4 million U.S. residents were using marijuana. That's a large jump from the 14.4 million U.S. residents who reported using the same drug in 2007, USA Today reports.

The government study also contained interesting information on what kinds of Americans are turning to illegal drugs. According to the study, 18- to 25-year-olds are showing the greatest increase in illegal drug use. USA Today wrote that illegal drug use among this population has jumped from 19.6 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent in 2010.

The government study also found that the illicit use of prescription painkillers, too, has been on the rise. Many of the people involved with the study reported that they obtained their prescription drugs from family members or friends.

Unfortunately, many of the people who are turning to illegal drugs could face criminal charges. However, officials with SAMHSA said that the numbers show just how important drug-abuse prevention and rehabilitation programs are.

"These statistics represent real lives that are at risk from the harmful and sometimes devastating effects of illicit drug use," said Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA administrator, in a written statement. "This nation cannot afford to risk losing more individuals, families and communities to illicit drugs."

Source: USA Today, "Study: More U.S. adults using illegal drugs," Steven Reinberg, Sept. 10, 2011

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