Teen use of marijuana, cocaine, and other illicit drugs was down 9 percent in 2004, according to the U.S. government.

Teen cigarette smoking also fell. But underage drinking didn’t improve, according to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Trends for young adults (aged 18-25) included a continued drop in tobacco use and a rise in nonmedical use of some pain relievers for young adults.

The report comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Numbers are based on a survey of about 70,000 people.

Illicit Drugs

Nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 and older had used illicit drugs in the past month. That’s about 19 million people.

The numbers were similar in 2002 and 2003, except among teens.

Teen illicit drug use dropped about 9 percent from 2003. About one in 10 youths aged 12-17 used illicit drugs in 2004. That’s down from 11.2 percent in 2003 and 11.6 percent in 2002. In that age group, marijuana use fell among boys to about 8 percent but stayed steady for girls (about 7 percent).

Marijuana was America’s most commonly used illicit drug. More than 14 million people had used marijuana in the month before the survey (current users).

Other drugs included:

—Cocaine: 2 million current users (467,000 used crack cocaine)

—Hallucinogens: 929,000 current users

—Heroin: about 166,000 current users

Ecstasy had about 450,000 current users. That’s similar to the number for 2003 but down from 2002, the survey shows.

Psychotherapeutic Drugs

Six million people (2.5 percent) currently used psychotherapeutic drugs (painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants) for nonmedical reasons in 2004.

Most (nearly 4.5 million people) used pain relievers.

Nonmedical use of some pain relievers rose notably among adults aged 18 to 25.

For instance, Vicodin use was up from 15 percent to 16.5 percent and OxyContin use increased from 3.6 to 4.3 percent in that age group.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco use dropped in 2004, primarily from a drop in cigarette use from 26 percent to 25 percent. Still, nearly 70 million people currently used tobacco products (about a third of the population older than 12 years old), the study shows.

About a quarter of people aged 12 and older smoked cigarettes. Cigar use held steady. Smokeless tobacco use dropped from 3.3 percent to 3 percent.

—Highest rate of cigarette use: Adults aged 18-25 (39.5 percent)

—Cigarette use among teens dropped from 13 percent to 12 percent between 2002 and 2004.

—Cigarette smoking was more common among men 12 and older (28 percent) than women (22 percent).

—Among teens, cigarette smoking was more common among girls (12 percent) than boys (11 percent) aged 12-17.

Alcohol Use

About half of people age 12 and older drank alcohol in 2004. Many did so to excess.

—Number of drinkers: 121 million people

—Underage drinkers: Nearly 11 million people (nearly 29 percent of those aged 12-20)

—Highest underage drinking rate: Whites (nearly 33 percent)

—Lowest underage drinking rate: Asians (16 percent)

An estimated 55 million people admitted binge drinking in the previous month. Binge drinking is downing five or more drinks on one occasion.

More than 17 million people were heavy drinkers. That means they engaged in binge drinking on five or more days in the previous month.

Binge drinking and heavy drinking were most common among young adults (aged 18-25). In that age group, 41 percent binge drank and 15 percent were heavy drinkers, the survey shows.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Overview of Findings from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” News release, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.