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National Drug Use Study: Marijuana and Heroin Use Skyrocketing and Local Prosecutors Are Revving Up for Severe Sentences

The federal government monitors drug use — specifically illegal drug use (including alcohol) — in several ways, including research studies like the one just released this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This study, done each year by the SAMHSA, is the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and it provides information on what drugs are being used by what people in what areas of the country based upon 70,000+ interviews with people aged 12+ years who are randomly selected to be questioned in all parts of the United States. Read details contained in the new National Survey on Drug Use and Health here.

Justice Department and Other Agencies Use the Drug Use Survey to Target Crime

These studies are then used by the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of federal drug crimes. The research is also used by federal, state, and local agencies involved in drug treatment programs and prevention efforts.

“Reducing the impact of drug use and its consequences on our Nation requires a robust public health response coupled with smart on crime strategies that protect public safety,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “For the first time in a decade, we are seeing real and significant reductions in the abuse of prescription drugs in America, proving that a more comprehensive response to our drug problem can make a real difference in making our nation healthier and safer. Expanding prevention, treatment, and support for people in recovery for substance use disorders will be our guide as we work to address other emerging challenges, including the recent uptick in heroin use shown in this survey.”

What Does the National Survey on Drug Use Report?

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that there is less prescription drug use now than in the past. Marijuana and heroin use, however, are even more popular than in years past.

1. Marijuana

Marijuana (aka Devil(‘s) Weed, Bo-Bo, Grass, Weed, Giggle Smoke, Herb, Ganja, Reefer) is the most popular illegal drug in this country. According to the National Survey, almost ten percent (7.3%) of Americans smoke pot. This is almost double those who told the survey interviewers they used marijuana in 2007 (5.8). It’s reported that 7.6 million Americans use marijuana every day.

2. Heroin

Heroin (aka Smack, Stuff, Smack, Black Tar, H, Junk, Tigre) is extremely popular these days, too. More and more people have used heroin (669,000 told the survey they had tried heroin in 2012 while 373,000 said they did in 2007).

Federal and State Drug Crimes Are Tough: Legal Synthetic Drugs Aren’t On Survey and Are Very Popular

Federal drug laws and state drug laws are serious here in Texas and law enforcement will arrest anyone from a young kid to an adult in his fifties if they are caught with illegal drugs in their possession. Felonies carry serious jail time.

Marijuana and heroin, according to the new Survey, are very popular drugs for both teenagers and those Boomers over the age of 50 ( a growing drug using group), and this means there will be arrests in the Dallas area as well as all over Texas when these folk are caught by the police with marijuana or heroin. And while they may be comparable in price, the felony punishments faced for being caught with heroin is much stiffer than if you are caught with some weed. (More details on this here.)

Moreover, prosecutors around the country are announcing that with the big jump in the popularity of heroin use (up 66%) they are going to be targeting heroin arrests for heavy sentencing. As one New Jersey prosecutor described it for a New Orleans reporter, the prosecutors are going to be “ruthless” on drug busts.

Savvy drug marketers out on the streets have responded to the threat of arrest by offering legal alternatives to the illegal drugs that so many people like. These are called “synthetic drugs” and the National Survey doesn’t focus on them.

These are drugs made by street manufacturers with a combination of ingredients that are all legal; once the law catches up with their recipe, then the recipe is changed so that the fake drug remains technically legal. (For example, in July 2012 there was a new federal law that banned chemicals used in “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana which followed along with state laws doing the same thing in over 30 states. This just meant that new ingredients that were not illegal were found to replace the banned chemicals by the synthetic manufacturers.)

For example, synthetic cannabis or fake marijuana, has been sold across the country for several years, under various names and recipes. K2 and Spice are two of the most common product names for synthetic marijuana. It is said to be the most popular drug among high school seniors after the real stuff (cannabis).

Getting caught with a synthetic drug may mean you escape felony drug charges because the law hasn’t caught up with that recipe yet; however, it’s smart to be careful with these fake drugs.  This week, for example, the Denver emergency rooms were filled with people who were suffering from a tainted bunch of fake pot (K2, Spice, Black Mamba) that had some so seriously ill that they were on life support.

Also, Texas has passed a law that tries to outlaw all synthetic drugs — so if you are arrested with synthetic marijuana, it’s important to know whether or not your fake pot recipe has escaped the complicated Texas statute’s list of chemicals or if you’re holding an illegal drug that you assumed was a legal synthetic.  For more, read our answer to the Frequently Asked Question, “Synthetic Marijuana (Fake Weed) is Illegal in Texas but It’s Still Being Sold: Are There Defenses to K-2, Spice, or Fake Weed Incense Under Texas Law? Yes.


If you are arrested and charged with a federal or state drug charge for possession or distribution of marijuana or heroin, then things may be tougher for you than things were in past years, if the prosecutors’ reaction to this new survey stays strong.   It will be important to defend yourself (or your child) aggressively under Texas law or federal statute in order to minimize the impact of the drug charge on your criminal record, your time behind bars (if any), and on your future (probation, fines, etc.).  For more information, check out the site’s resources page as well as past Case Results which include the following:

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