Close to 300m people use drugs worldwide

The theme of this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is “Share facts on drugs. Save lives.

Sonam Penjor

Around 275-million (M) people used drugs worldwide in the last year, while over 36-M people suffered from drug use disorders, according to the 2021 World Drug Report, released on 24 June by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The 2021 World Drug Report provides a global overview of the supply and demand of opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances (NPS), as well as their impact on health, taking into account the possible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report further states that in the last 24 years, cannabis potency had increased by as much as four times in parts of the world, even as the percentage of adolescents who perceived the drug as harmful fell by as much as 40 per cent, despite evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health and other harms, especially among regular long-term users.

UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said, “Lower perception of drug use risks has been linked to higher rates of drug use, and the findings of UNODC’s 2021 World Drug Report highlight the need to close the gap between perception and reality to educate young people and safeguard public health.”

The theme of this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is “Share facts on drugs. Save lives.”

It emphasizes on the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness, so that international communities, governments, civil society, families and youth can make informed decisions, better target efforts to prevent and treat drug use, and tackle world drug challenges.

According to the report, the main psychoactive component in cannabis has risen from around six percent to more than 11 percent in Europe between 2002-2019, and around four percent to 16 percent in the United States between 1995-2019, while the percentage of adolescents that perceived cannabis as harmful declined by 40 percent in the United States and by 25 percent in Europe.

Moreover, most countries have reported a rise in the use of cannabis during the pandemic. In surveys of health professionals across 77 countries, 42 percent asserted that cannabis use had increased. A rise in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs has also been observed in the same period.

The report further states that between 2010-2019 the number of people using drugs increased by 22 percent, owing in part to global population growth.

“Based on demographic changes alone, current projections suggest an 11 per cent rise in the number of people who use drugs globally by 2030 and a marked increase of 40 percent in Africa, due to its rapidly growing and young population,” the report states.

According to the latest global estimates, about 5.5 percent of the population aged between 15 and 64 years have used drugs at least once in the past year, while 36.3-M people, or 13 percent of the total number of persons who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders.

Globally, over 11-M people are estimated to inject drugs, half of whom are living with Hepatitis C. Opioids continue to account for the largest burden of disease attributed to drug use.

The two pharmaceutical opioids most commonly used to treat people with opioid use disorders, methadone and buprenorphine, have become increasingly accessible over the past two decades.

The amount available for medical use has increased six-fold since 1999, from 557-M daily doses to 3,317-M by 2019, indicating that science-based pharmacological treatment is more available now than in the past.

The report shows that drug markets have swiftly resumed operations after the initial disruption at the onset of the pandemic; a burst that has triggered or accelerated certain pre-existing trafficking dynamics across the global drug market.

Among these are; increasingly larger shipments of illicit drugs, a rise in the frequency of overland and water-way routes used for trafficking, greater use of private planes for the purpose of drug trafficking, and an upsurge in the use of contactless methods to deliver drugs to end-consumers.

The resilience of drug markets during the pandemic has demonstrated once again traffickers’ ability to adapt quickly to changed environments and circumstances.

The report also noted that cocaine supply chains to Europe are diversifying, pushing prices down and quality up and thereby threatening Europe with a further expansion of the cocaine market. This is likely to widen the potential harm caused by the drug in the region.

Meanwhile, the number of NPS emerging on the global market fell from 163 in 2013 to 71 in 2019. This reflects trends in North America, Europe and Asia.

The findings suggest national and international control systems have succeeded in limiting the spread of NPS in high income countries, where NPS first emerged a decade ago.