What Is the Drug Addiction Rate in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, as in many parts of the United States, drug addiction remains a pressing public health concern, affecting those addicted, their families, and communities across the state.

According to recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the drug addiction rate of Pennsylvania’s 12.9 million population is 7.0% (or 785,000) among people aged 12 and older.

That number decreased only slightly from the previous year’s reports of 7.4% (the same as the national average).

As of the latest available statistics:

  • Opioids are the most commonly abused drugs outside of alcohol in Pennsylvania.
  • From 2018 to 2024, first responders administered 96,337 doses of naloxone for opioid-related overdoses. 
  • In that same timeframe, 58,065 emergency room visits were for opioid overdoses 
  • 36.1 of 100,000 drug overdose deaths are opioid-related.

These statistics highlight the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address drug addiction in Pennsylvania, including prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support services

How Are Pennsylvania Drug Addiction Rates Determined?

SAMHSA collects data on drug addiction rates through the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). 

For a comprehensive understanding of this data, the surveys include:

  • A diverse range of demographics, including different age groups, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and geographic regions within Pennsylvania.
  • Various types of substance use, including illicit drugs (e.g., heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine), prescription drugs like opioids, stimulants, benzodiazepines, and others.
  • Differentiates between substance use and substance use disorder (SUD), allowing for a comprehensive understanding of both patterns of use and addiction rates.
  • Statistical methods that estimate the percentage of individuals who have used substances within a specified time frame and those who meet diagnostic criteria for SUD.

Drug Use Disorder Rates in Pennsylvania by Drug Type

The SAMHSA report provides information on the prevalence of substance use disorders for the most commonly used drug types for people aged 12 and older.

Illicit Drug Use Disorder

The rate of illicit drug use disorder among Pennsylvania residents aged 12 and older is 2.8% or 301,000, a slight increase from the previous year’s rate of 2.7%. 

Illicit drugs, also known as illegal or street drugs, are substances that are prohibited by law for recreational use, distribution, and possession. 

Illicit drug use disorder refers to a pattern of harmful use of these substances, leading to short and long term health issues.

Examples of commonly abused illegal drugs includes:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamines
  • MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)
  • LSD (Acid)
  • PCP (Phencyclidine)
  • Marijuana (Cannabis), which is illegal for recreational use in Pennsylvania 

Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder is a treatable mental health condition where there is a chronic pattern of opioid misuse regardless of its harmful effects. 

Examples of commonly misused opioids include prescription medications, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, illicit drugs like heroin, and opiates like pain relievers.

The past year rate of opioid use, heroin, and prescription pain reliever disorders among people aged 12 and older in Pennsylvania is:

  • Opioids: 0.8% or 84,000, down only slightly from the previous years’ rate of 0.9% 
  • Heroin: 0.54% or 58,000, up from the previous year’s rate of 0.27%
  • Prescription painkillers: 3.5% or 384,000, down from the previous years’ rate of 4.5%

Marijuana Use Disorder

Marijuana use disorder (MUD) involves problematic cannabis use that leads to significant impairment or distress. 

It comes in the form of the dried cannabis plant, as hashish or a concentrated resin extract of the plant, and as other concentrates like wax, oil, shatter, and budder.

The past year MUD rate in the state of Pennsylvania for people aged 12 and older is 1.6% or 175,000, which increased 0.2% from the previous years’ rate of 1.4%.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) involves problematic patterns of alcohol consumption that leads to significant impairment or distress regardless of its harmful effects. 

In Pennsylvania, the past year’s alcohol use disorder rate among people aged 12 or older is 5.1% or 560,000. This rate is lower than the 7.1% rate recorded from previous years.

Drug Use Rates in Pennsylvania by Age Group

The survey data provides drug use rates by age group for both the past year and past month, broken down as youth, young adults, and a comprehensive glance of 12 years of age and older. 

For youth aged 12 to 17, the SAMHSA 2019 past month data reports:

  • 3% or 28,000 used tobacco
  • 5.6% or 51,000 used marijuana
  • 9.0% or 82,000 used alcohol
  • 6.7% or 61,000 used illicit drugs 

For young adults aged 18 to 25, the same report provided past year data for drug use:

  • 43.1% or 5562,000 used tobacco
  • 34.3% or 447,000 used marijuana
  • 1.6% or 21,000 missed opioids
  • 7.3% or 95,000 had illicit drug use disorder
  • 10.6% or 138,000 had alcohol use disorder
  • 15.4% or 200,000 had substance use disorder

Rates on Life Factors Impacted by Drug Abuse in Pennsylvania

Abuse of illegal drugs can have far-reaching consequences on various aspects of the user’s life, including their mental health and when they first started using.

Mental Health

According to SAMHSA’s NSDUH data, Pennsylvania has seen a concerning correlation between substance abuse and mental health issues.

A significant portion of individuals struggling with SUDs in Pennsylvania also report co-occurring mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In recent years, that data shows the following for youth aged 12 to 17 years old:

  • Depression: 11.9% or 107,000, which increased significantly from the previous year’s rate of 8.4%.
  • Of this age group, 44.0% (or 46,000) received some form of depression care.

For young adults aged 18 to 25, NSDUH data mental health data shows:

  • Suicidal thoughts: 11.3% or 145,000, which increased from the 6.7% rate from previous years.
  • Serious mental illness: 8.1% or 105,000, which increased from 3.8% in previous years.

For adults aged 18 and older, mental health data shows the following rates:

  • Suicidal thoughts: 4.6% or 452,000, which increased only slightly from 3.6% from recent years.
  • Serious mental illness: 4.7% or 464,000, raising slightly from the reported 3.4% form previous years.

First Drug Use

SAMHSA’s NSDUH data provides insights into the age at which residents in Pennsylvania report first using drugs.

Early initiation of drug use typically occurs in adolescence or young adulthood, increasing their likelihood of developing in substance abuse disorder later in life.

Risk factors, such as a history of trauma, peer pressure, and family history of substance abuse, contribute to the likelihood of early and continued drug use.

In Pennsylvania, first time drug use for youth aged 12 to 17 in the past year was reported as:

  • Alcohol: 9.4% or 86,000 
  • Marijuana: 5.4% or 49,000
  • Cigarettes: 1.9% or 17,000

Drug Addiction Treatment Rate in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the drug addiction treatment rate reflects a significant demand for a range of services, such as outpatient and inpatient rehab.

The SAMHSA report shows that compared to 2015-2017, there has been an uptick in the number of people enrolled in treatment programs, being 66,969 as of March 2019.

Data also shows that 23,351 of those getting treatment services were in opioid treatment programs receiving methadone.

Of those enrolled, data from a single-day count in treatment facilities in 2019 reported:

  • 59.8% received substance abuse treatment only
  • 10.8% received alcohol treatment only 
  • 29.4% received treatment for both drugs and alcohol

How to Reverse Drug Addiction Rates in Pennsylvania

To reverse drug addiction rates in Pennsylvania, a focused and efficient approach is essential. This involves:

  • Adequate treatment, including rehabilitation programs, medication-assisted treatment, and counseling.
  • Ongoing support through peer groups, counseling, and access to essential services like housing and healthcare.
  • Education and prevention programs about the risks of addiction to promote healthy behaviors.
  • Collaboration with stakeholders, including healthcare providers, law enforcement, policymakers, and community organizations.
  • Holistic approach to address underlying factors such as mental health disorders and social determinants of health.

Find Hope and Addiction Recovery Support in Pennsylvania

If you or a loved one are seeking drug addiction treatment in Philadelphia, York, or anywhere else in Pennsylvania, we’re here to help you every step of the way. 

Find the support you need to overcome addiction and reclaim your life. Contact Hope’s Destiny today and take the first step toward a brighter future.


Opendata PA. “Pennsylvania Quick Stats.” Retrieved from: https://data.pa.gov/stories/s/Pennsylvania-Opioids/9q45-nckt/. Accessed on March 6, 2024.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Behavioral Health Barometer.” Retrieved from:  https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt32855/Pennsylvania-BH-Barometer_Volume6.pdf. Accessed on March 6, 2024.

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