Around 200 million people use illegal drugs
About 200 million people around the world use illegal drugs every
year, and that may be taking a toll on health and death rates in various
countries, says a report released recently in the Lancet.
The study, part of a series the journal is doing on addiction, offers
a plethora of information about use of opioids, amphetamines, cocaine
and marijuana worldwide, based on reports about drug use, drug
dependence, deaths, and health-related fallouts from illegal drug use.
Those four drug categories were chosen since information on other
substances, such as ecstasy, anabolic steroids and hallucinogenic drugs,
Let's start with some numbers: Globally 125 million to 203 million
people use marijuana, 14 million to 56 million use amphetamines, 12
million to 21 million use opioids and 14 million to 21 million use
cocaine. Eleven million to 21 million people inject drugs. About 15
million to 39 million people are considered problem users. One in 20
people ages 15 to 64 uses illegal drugs every year. Rates are highest in
In 2009 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported there
were about 15 million to 39 million problem drug users worldwide, and
the World Health Organisation found that more developed countries had
higher rates of drug dependence.
The consequences of illegal drug use include severe toxic effects,
such as overdose; dependence; violence or injury due to intoxication;
and the effects on health from chronic use: cardiovascular disease,
cirrhosis and mental disorders. Health effects vary by drug; marijuana
use rarely leads to a fatal overdose, for example. And within countries,
drug use can be affected by social factors and the availability of
The authors point out that many people who use illegal drugs don't
just stop at one, a factor that could cause even more health woes. In
looking at mortality rates, though, drug use takes a back seat to some
other substances. In 2004 the World Health Organization reported that
globally there were 5.1 million deaths due to tobacco use, 2.25 million
from alcohol and 250,000 from illegal drug use. But when looking at
years of life lost, drugs came in the highest at 2.1 million (followed
by alcohol at 1.5 million), since younger people are generally more
susceptible to drug-related deaths.
A lack of data on a number of issues means it's not fully known how
drug use affects health, society and the economy. Several unanswered
questions remain: How many drug users eventually will become dependent?
How long will they stay dependent? And how much does criminalization of
drugs reduce the frequency of use?
More drug-related policies and better information on drug use
prevalence and health effects is needed, the authors said, in
high-income countries as well as in developing nations.
- Los Angeles Times