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One in 20 people worldwide use illegal drugs, claim

Friday January 6th, 2012

About 200 million people worldwide – about one in 20 – between the ages of 15 and 64 use illicit drugs each year, Australian research has claimed.

The highest drug use is in high-income countries where drug-related disease is similar to that caused by alcohol, according to figures revealed in the first paper in the Lancet Series on Addiction, which was published yesterday (January 5, 2012).

The paper, by Professor Louisa Degenhardt, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, and the Burnet Institute, Melbourne, and Professor Wayne Hall, University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, Brisbane, found that according to estimates made by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, cannabis use appears to be highest in Oceania (Australia/New Zealand) with up to 15 per cent of 15-64 year olds using the drug, while opioid use including heroin was highest in the Near and Middle East (up to 1.4 per cent).

Oceania came out top for amphetamine use, with up to 2.8 per cent of 15-64-year-olds using such as speed and crystal meth, while cocaine use was highest in North America (1.9 per cent).

Available data has also suggested that worldwide there are 125-203 million cannabis users, 14-56 million amphetamine users, 14-21 million cocaine users and 12-21 million opioid users.

There are an estimated 15-39 million problematic users of opioids, amphetamines, or cocaine, and 11-21 million people who inject drugs.

The most recent data reported by the World Health Organization (2004) suggest that 250,000 deaths worldwide were due to illicit drug use, compared with 2.25 million due to alcohol and 5.1 million due to tobacco.

There were 2.1 million years of life lost due to drug use compared to 1.5 million for alcohol use.

The authors conclude: “Intelligent policy responses to drug problems need better data for the prevalence of different types of illicit drug use and the harms that their use causes globally.

“This need is especially urgent in high-income countries with substantial rates of illicit drug use and in low-income and middle-income countries close to illicit drug production areas.”

Many drug control initiatives to date based on insufficient evidence but emerging evidence-based interventions could reduce drug-related harms.

Other reports in the Lancet series include Professor John Strang, National Addiction Centre, London, King's College London, UK, calling for greater attention to be paid for more policy-relevant areas in addiction research if society's ability to adopt a more evidence based approach to drug policy is to be improved.

Another paper, by Professor Robin Room, from the University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, and Professor Peter Reuter, of the University of Maryland, USA, argues that countries wanting to try new approaches to drug legislation must move beyond existing international treaties, which have done little to prevent drug misuse.

The Lancet January 6 2012

Tags: Australia | Drug and Alcohol Abuse | North America | UK News | World Health

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