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UNODC report documents expansion in opioid crisis, prescription drug abuse

By Shahina Maqbool
September 06, 2018

Islamabad : The non-medical use of prescription drugs is becoming a major threat to public health and law enforcement worldwide, with opioids causing maximum harm and accounting for 76% of the deaths where drug use disorders were implicated, states World Drug Report 2018, released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) here on Wednesday.

The 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. It highlights the different drug use patterns and vulnerabilities of particular age and gender groups, and highlights the shift in the global drug market.

Briefing the audience on the flagship report, UNODC Representative Cesar Guedes informed that Fentanyl and its analogues remain a problem in North America, while tramadol – an opioid used to treat pain – has become a growing concern in parts of Africa and Asia. Accessibility of fentanyl and tramadol for medical use is vital for treating pain, but traffickers manufacture them illicitly and promote them in illegal markets, causing considerable harm to health.

The global seizure of pharmaceutical opioids in 2016 was 87 tons, roughly the same as the quantities of heroin seized that year. Seizures of pharmaceutical opioids accounted for 87% of the global total in 2016. Countries in Asia, which had previously accounted for more than half of global seizures, reported just 7% of the global total in 2016.

Global cocaine manufacture in 2016 reached the highest level ever reported, with an estimated 1,410 tons being produced. From 2016-2017, global opium production jumped by 65% to 10,500 tons, the highest estimate recorded since start of the 21st century. A marked increase in opium poppy cultivation and gradually improving yields in Afghanistan resulted in opium production there last year reaching 9,000 tons.

Cannabis was the most widely consumed drug in 2016, with 192 million people using it at least once during the previous year. The global number of cannabis users continues to rise and appears to have increased by 16% in the decade to 2016, reflecting a similar increase in the world population. Drugs such as heroin and cocaine that have been available for a long time increasingly coexist with NPS and prescription drugs.

The number of people worldwide using drugs at least once a year remained stable in 2016 with around 275 million people, or roughly 5.6% of the global population aged 15-64 years. The report finds that drug use and associated harm are highest among young people. Most research suggests that early (12–14 years) to late (15–17 years) adolescence is a critical risk period for the initiation of substance use and may peak among young people (aged 18-25 years). Cannabis is a common drug of choice for young people.

Drug use among the older generation (aged 40 years and older) has been increasing at a faster rate than among those who are younger. Older drug users may often have multiple physical and mental health problems, making effective drug treatment more challenging, yet little attention has been paid to drug use disorders among older people.

Globally, deaths directly caused by the use of drugs increased by 60% from 2000 to 2015. People over the age of 50 accounted for 27% of these deaths in 2000, but this had risen to 39% in 2015. About three-quarters of deaths from drug use disorders among those aged 50 and older are among the ageing cohort of opioid users.

The majority of people who use drugs are men, but women have specific drug use patterns, the report finds. The prevalence of non-medical use of opioids and tranquillisers by women remains at a comparable level to that of men. While women may typically begin using substances later than men, once they have initiated substance use, women tend to increase their rate of consumption of alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and opioids more rapidly than men.