Aims: This is the first part of the Second National Epidemiological Survey on Illicit Drug Use in six high-prevalence areas in China in 1996. The scale of illicit drug abuse and patterns of use in the survey areas were assessed.
Design, setting and participants: 67 319 registered permanent residents in the community and those who were at institutions at the point of the survey (15 years old and over, males 34 755, 51.6%; females 32 564, 48.4%) in selected areas in China were screened and interviewed by trained psychiatrists.
Measurements: Demographics and drug-related data were assessed using the Epidemiological Inventory for Illicit Drug Use developed by the authors. Illicit drugs in this study were defined as a group of psychoactive substances controlled by international and national laws, used for non-medical purposes, including opiate, cocaine, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), cannabis, hallucinogens, etc.
Findings: The lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use was 1.60% (male, 2.58%, female 0.57%), and 1-year prevalence was 1.17% (male 1.80%, female 0.48%). There were 67 cases who used a drug initially before 1952; no new cases of illicit drug use could then be found during the period of 1952-86. However, the number of new drug users in each year has been rising steadily since 1986. The majority of drugs used were opiates in which heroin dominated, although there was some variability among the six sites. The main routes of administration were inhalation and intravenous injection. More than half the users (59.1%) took drugs on seven occasions or less per week, and 15.8% users used drugs on 21 occasions or more per week.
Conclusion: Compared with the data from the 1993 survey, illicit drug use has continued to escalate across the areas, calling for priority concern in various sections of the country.