Around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year: UNODC World Drug Report 2021

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

The Report further noted 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 percent, despite evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health and other harms, especially among regular long-term users.

“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,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.

“The theme of this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is “Share facts on drugs. Save lives”, emphasising the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness, so that the international community, 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 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 million people, or 13 percent of the total number of persons who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders.

Globally, over 11 million 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 million daily doses to 3,317 million by 2019, indicating that science-based pharmacological treatment is more available now than in the past.

Drug markets on the dark web only emerged a decade ago but major ones are now worth at least US$ 315 million in annual sales. Although this is just a fraction of overall drug sales, the trend is upwards with a fourfold increase between 2011 to mid-2017 and mid-2017 to 2020.

Rapid technological innovation, combined with the agility and adaptability of those using new platforms to sell drugs and other substances, is likely to usher in a globalised market where all drugs are more available and accessible everywhere. This, in turn, could trigger accelerated changes in patterns of drug use and entail public health implications, according to the Report.

COVID-19 has triggered innovation and adaptation in drug prevention and treatment services through more flexible models of service delivery. Many countries have introduced or expanded telemedicine services due to the pandemic, which for drug users means that healthcare workers can now offer counselling or initial assessments over the telephone and use electronic systems to prescribe controlled substances.

While the impact of COVID-19 on drug challenges is not yet fully known, the analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities. The social impact of the pandemic – driving a rise in inequality, poverty, and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations – represent factors that could push more people into drug use.

Source: Emirates News Agency