National Survey on Drug Use and Health

About the Survey

Organizations Involved

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is an annual nationwide survey involving interviews with approximately 70,000 randomly selected individuals aged 12 and older. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which funds NSDUH, is an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Supervision of the project comes from SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ).

Through a competitive bidding process, SAMHSA selected RTI International to conduct the NSDUH through 2017. RTI has successfully conducted the survey since 1988. RTI's role in this long-term national effort includes study design, sample selection, data collection, data processing, analysis, and reporting.

NSDUH is authorized by Section 505 of the Public Health Service Act, which requires annual surveys to collect data on the level and patterns of substance use.

Project Goals

Data from the NSDUH provide national and state-level estimates on the use of tobacco products, alcohol, illicit drugs (including non-medical use of prescription drugs) and mental health in the United States. In keeping with past studies, these data continue to provide the drug prevention, treatment, and research communities with current, relevant information on the status of the nation's drug usage. To assess and monitor the nature of drug and alcohol use and the consequences of abuse, NSDUH strives to:

Many government agencies, private organizations, individual researchers, and the public at large use NSDUH data. For instance, many state health agencies use NSDUH data to estimate the need for treatment facilities. Other federal, state, and local agencies, such as the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Department of Justice, use the information to support prevention programs and monitor drug control strategies.

To read more about who uses the NSDUH data, click here.

Selection Process

A scientific random sample of households is selected across the United States, and a professional RTI interviewer makes a personal visit to each selected household. Once a household is chosen, no other household can be substituted for any reason. This practice is to ensure the NSDUH data represent the many different types of people in the United States.

After answering a few general questions during the in-person visit by the interviewer, one or two residents of the household may be asked to participate in the survey by completing an interview. It is possible no one will be selected for the interview. If an individual is selected for the interview, their participation is voluntary, but no other person can take their place. Since the survey is based on a random sample, each selected person represents more than 4,500 United States residents. At the end of the completed interview, the selected person will receive $30 in cash.

Data Collection and Processing

Participants complete the interview in the privacy of their own home. A professional RTI interviewer personally visits each selected person to administer the interview using a laptop computer. No prior computer skills are necessary. Individuals answer most of the interview questions in private and enter their responses directly into the computer so even the interviewer does not know the answer entered. For some items, the interviewer reads the question aloud and enters the participant's response into the computer. The interview takes about an hour to complete.

All selected persons are encouraged to participate, whether or not they use or know anything about tobacco products, alcohol, or illicit drugs. In order to know the percentage of people who do use these substances, we also must know how many people do not. Furthermore, participation from all selected persons is important as questions in the survey ask about a number of health-related topics relevant to all people.

Both SAMHSA and RTI International are committed to assuring the complete confidentiality of all responses. Our interest is only in the combination of all responses nationwide not any one individual's answers. Full names are never recorded or associated with a participant's answers. Additionally, the confidentiality of the answers provided to the questions is protected under federal law by the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA). By law, all responses can only be used for statistical purposes and cannot be used for any other purpose.

Each interview data file identified only by a code number is electronically transmitted to RTI on the same day the interview is conducted. Combined with all other participants' answers, the data are then coded, totaled, and turned into statistics for analysis. As a quality control measure, participants may receive a telephone call or letter from RTI to verify the interviewer completed the interview with them in a professional manner.

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